Tips On Preparing For Flu Season

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture
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Flu season is time to pay special attention to your health. About 36,000 U.S. citizens die every year from the flu and 10 to 20 percent of the population gets the flu every year. Persons over the age of 65 and children less than two years old are at greatest risk.

"The flu vaccine is effective 70 to 90 percent of the time," explained Linda Stein, RN, manager of infection control at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital.

While it isn't a complete guarantee against catching the flu, getting an annual flu shot boosts your odds of staying healthy this season. "For most people, the influenza vaccine is very effective in preventing the disease," Stein said, noting that some research also suggests the shot may reduce the severity of the flu, if not prevent it entirely.

The best time to get vaccinated is in the fall. Each year, a new vaccine is developed to guard against flu strains the World Health Organization expects to be prevalent that season. It takes about two weeks for the shot to begin providing protection and it lasts about six months. Since it's made from a dead virus, there's no chance of actually catching the flu from a vaccination. Arm soreness and redness or swelling at the injection site are the most common side effects and may last one to two days. Other potential side effects, such as allergic reaction, are rare.

IMPROVING YOUR ODDS

Influenza is spread easily from person to person. In addition to getting your flu shot, the most effective measure to take to avoid getting influenza is good hand hygiene.

"The virus lands on surfaces like door knobs, elevator buttons, shopping carts – anywhere someone has sneezed or coughed into their hand and touched a surface," Stein explained. "When you are out and about, keep your hands away from your face. The moment you get home, wash your hands well."

Use the hand wipes provided by some grocery stores to wipe down cart handles. Hand gels are a portable and effective way to clean hands, as long as they're used properly. It's important to rub hands together until all surfaces are dry, about 15 seconds. That's the same amount of time for effective hand washing – 15 seconds of vigorous rubbing of sudsy hands, followed by rinsing and thorough drying. If done correctly, you don't need antibacterial soap. Plain soap is good enough for killing germs. For added protection in public restrooms, use a clean paper towel or the back of your hand to turn off the faucet and open the restroom door. In addition to practicing good hand hygiene, it is important to cover your coughs with tissue and don't go to work or public places when you are sick.

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WHEN TO SEE THE DOCTOR

When high fever, muscle aches, headache and extreme fatigue come on suddenly, chances are it's the flu. It's best to call your doctor right away, regardless of how severe your symptoms are. Some prescription medicines can combat the flu, but only if they're taken soon after symptoms appear. Through phone contact, your physician can document your illness in your medical records, provide advice and decide if an office visit is needed. Some flu patients are simply too exhausted to go out and some physicians don't want infectious patients coming into their office.

Get lots of rest while the flu runs its course – usually three to four days – and don't be surprised if the tiredness and weakness lasts for several weeks. Drink lots of fluids, such as water and juice, to stay properly hydrated. Tylenol is the best choice for relieving aches and pains.

Call the Lutheran General flu shot hotline at (800) 995-4267 for more information.

There are only three good reasons not to get a flu shot:

* An allergy to chicken eggs, which are used in making the vaccine

* A severe reaction to the vaccine in the past

* A fever or moderate illness at the time the shots are being administered.

* Talk to your doctor about whether the flu shot is right for you. "This is something you can do to help yourself," Stein said.

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