Preventative Health: Flu Season

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC, seasonal influenza is most common in the United States during the fall and winter time, anywhere from late November to March.

Seasonal Influenza, also referred to as the flu, is a contagious illness which targets the respiratory system and is caused by the influenza virus. Specifically, it can infect the nose, throat and sometimes, the lungs. The contagiousness of the viral infection lies in the fact that it is spread by tiny droplets that are dispersed when people cough, sneeze, or speak.

The CDC recommends that all people, six months or older, should get the flu vaccine annually. If possible, it is best to get the flu shot by the end of the month of October or at least before the flu spreads to your local community. It often takes about two weeks for the body to develop protection against the flu after receiving the vaccination.

However, there are people who should not get the flu shot; these include children younger than six months and people who are allergic to any of the ingredients in the vaccine. To be safe, it is best to talk with your doctor if you have any concerns. According to the CDC, vaccines are recommended because research has demonstrated that they can decrease the risk of getting infected by 40-60%.

The effectiveness of the vaccine may increase further if there is a match between the vaccine and the flu virus that is circulating at the time of administration. Further benefits of the vaccine include a reduced chance for hospitalizations due to the flu, benefit for people who may also have a chronic condition (such as diabetes), protection for pregnant women during their pregnancy and post birth, and most interestingly; if you do get the flu, the vaccine can make it milder with less severe symptoms.

While the CDC recommends getting vaccinated every year as the “single best way to prevent seasonal flu,” there are several other precautions that can be taken to avoid the flu. In general, washing your hands often can help prevent the spreading of germs, thereby preventing the spread of respiratory illnesses, such as the flu. In addition, if you know someone is sick with seasonal influenza, try to avoid close contact with the individual until they have recovered.

Furthermore, try to avoid touching your mouth, nose, or eyes as your hands may have touched surfaces contaminated with germs beforehand. Maintaining general good health habits, such as being physically active, eating a balanced diet, and getting enough sleep to ensure efficient immune system function can decrease your likelihood of falling ill.

Other precautions that can be taken include regularly disinfecting common surfaces and objects that could be contaminated with germs. While a seasonal influenza vaccination and other general precautions can greatly decrease the chances of infection, these methods are far from perfect. The CDC estimates that approximately 5% to 20% of the United States population will get the flu annually. Although the severity of each case differs, and not every person who becomes ill seeks medical attention while some individuals may make multiple hospital visits; the CDC estimates that every year in the United States, the flu results in nearly 31.4 million outpatient visits to a medical professional.

If you find yourself among those who have contacted the influenza virus, there are several steps you can take to ensure a smooth recovery. Initially, it is important to recognize the symptoms of the flu which can include muscle and joint aches, extreme fatigue, weakness, dry cough, headache, sore throat, and/or runny nose. Less common symptoms like trouble breathing, shortness of breath, dizziness, severe vomiting, and/or pain/pressure in the chest can signify a more severe stage of the flu and therefore necessitates immediate medical attention.

Flu symptoms generally begin to show between one to four days after contact with the virus. Within 48 hours of these symptoms starting, drugs like Tamiflu can be taken to help ease symptoms, and over-the-counter painkillers can help alleviate body pain and headaches.

It is important to remember that antibiotic medications cannot treat the flu. This is because the flu is caused by a virus whereas antibiotics only work to treat bacterial infections. Antiviral drugs can be prescribed to treat flu symptoms.

Lastly, to ensure that you do not spread the virus, if you have the flu it is recommended that you stay home from work or class, and during recovery, make sure to get enough rest for your body.

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