This year’s flu season has been a bad one and it’s not over yet. Contrary to popular belief, the flu season in the United States can last as late as May.
If you or someone you know has come down with the flu, you’re probably aware that the virus has been particularly harsh this year due to its widespread and intense activity.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Backention (CDC), a cumulative rate of 86.3 influenza-associated hospitalizations per 100,000 people was reported between Feb. 25 and March 3, 2018 .
Don’t assume it’s too late to get the flu. You should still take necessary precautions to prevent it. Before learning about the preventive tips, it is important to understand the flu itself.
The flu is a respiratory illness caused by flu viruses. Flu viruses are classified into three groups: A, B and C. Influenza A and B are the most common and are responsible for the annual seasonal flu as well as the occasional pandemics linked to new strains and subtypes. This year’s influenza variant, Type A, subtype H3N2, is particularly nasty
Symptoms of the flu include a fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue. Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in young children than adults.
Millions of Americans suffer from such symptoms during flu season, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases . While the symptoms may be similar to those of the common cold, they are usually more severe with the flu.
Flu viruses spread mainly by tiny droplets that travel through the air when people who have the flu cough, sneeze or talk. The flu spreads quickly and is highly contagious.
Irrespective of the type of viruses that cause influenza, there are several preventive measures that can protect you and your family from the flu.
Here are some of the ways to protect yourself from the flu.
1. Get Vaccinated
Getting the flu vaccination is the best and most effective way to avoid the flu as well as lessen the severity of the illness if you become infected.
The flu vaccine causes antibodies to develop in the body about a couple of weeks after being vaccinated. These antibodies provide protection against the viruses that are in the vaccine.
Ideally, you should get vaccinated before the flu season starts. But experts say you should still get vaccinated as long as flu viruses are circulating.
The CDC recommends that everyone above the age of 6 months get a flu vaccination .
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends three main types of flu vaccinations for the following people :
- Standard flu shot for anyone above 6 months.
- Intradermal flu shot for adults aged 18 to 64.
- High-dose flu shot for older adults.
In addition, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Backention, only injectable flu shots are recommended this year; the nasal spray vaccine – Live attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV) – is not recommended for use this season due to concerns over its level of effectiveness .
Your doctor can advise you about available vaccines and which is best for you.
2. Cover Your Mouth and Nose When Coughing or Sneezing
To prevent the spread of the flu, it is important to cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. This simple etiquette is important for infection-control measures, as it prevents infectious droplets from making other people ill.
A 2014 study published in the Journal of Fluid Mechanics shows that the smaller cough and sneeze droplets travel farther distances – 5 to 200 times farther .
Despite being a very important preventive measure, many people do not follow this hygiene habit.
According to a 2010 survey by the American Society for Microbiology, approximately one out of every four people observed in a public setting failed to cover their mouth when they coughed or sneezed. Plus, less than 5 percent of people covered their mouth using methods recommended by public health officials .
Use a tissue to cover your cough or sneeze, then throw it in the trash can and wash your hands. If a tissue is not available, sneeze or cough into the inside of your elbow.
3. Avoid Touching Your Eyes, Nose or Mouth
Flu-causing germs often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated, and then touches his or her eyes, nose or mouth.
The CDC reports that the flu virus can “live” on some surfaces for up to 24 hours .
You can get infected if you touch a contaminated doorknob or light switch, and then rub your eyes or bite your nails.
Even though you may wash your hands regularly, they won’t be clean every minute of the day. It’s best to just avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth as much as possible. Also, remind your children not to rub their eyes or put their hands in their mouth.
4. Wash Your Hands Often
Whether it is the flu season or any time of the year, it is important to keep your hands clean.
It is often through dirty hands that harmful microbes enter the body. Poor hand hygiene is one of the main reasons behind the spread of flu viruses.
You must try to wash your hands every time you sneeze or cough, and especially before meals.
Instead of just washing your hands with plain water, use soap and water. After applying the soap, make sure to rub your hands together for about 20 to 30 seconds to lather it up, then rinse off the soap completely with clean water.
Also, keep alcohol-based hand cleaners around the house and in your pocket or purse. As commercial hand cleaners may contain toxic ingredients as well, you can prepare your own hand sanitizer at home with all natural ingredients.
However, avoid excessive hand washing as it can lead to dry, cracked skin, which increases the chance of microbes entering the body and causing an infection.