One Gift You Don’t Want To Get this Holiday Season
How to Prepare for the Flu
By Kristine Yahn, RN
Californians for Patient Care
It’s back! Flu season – just talking about it can
make people want to run for cover. Every year about five to 20
percent of the nation catches the flu. Many more catch what they
call the flu, but really isn’t. Influenza can make even
healthy adults sick for seven to 14 days. Flu and other viral
illnesses account for 70 million sick days each year costing billions
of dollars annually.
So how can you avoid influenza and other troublesome viruses?
Locking yourself in your home between the months of late December
to early March is not the answer. However, being able to identify
the flu and actively taking steps to prevent passing the virus
to others can lead to a happier winter season for everyone.
I can’t come in today, I have the flu … at
least I think I do
While cold season is year round, flu season sets in between late
fall and early spring. The flu usually spreads when the virus
goes airborne through a cough or sneeze and is inhaled by a new
host. It can also be spread by touching contaminated surfaces
– this is one virus that can survive for two to eight hours
on common surfaces such as fax machines and doorknobs. For those
of you who actually take a day off when you begin to feel lousy,
we are sorry to report that it is even possible to pass the flu
along 24 hours before exhibiting symptoms.
How do you know that your symptoms are truly an influenza infection
and not just a cold or other less virulent virus? While the flu
might share some of the same symptoms as the common cold such
as a runny nose, flu will include chills and fever, and significant
body aches. Flu may include vomiting and diarrhea, and don’t
be surprised if you also come down with a cough, stuffy nose and
sore throat – flu is actually a disease of the upper respiratory
Why the flu shot works
One of the best forms of protection is the flu shot. More than
100 million doses of flu vaccine are available this year. The
shot contains dead parts of the virus from three strains most
likely to strike. Your body recognizes these strains as foreign
bodies and produces antibodies that fight the flu when you encounter
the real thing. Since the flu viruses change each year, the shot
is different every year. That is why it is important to get a
flu shot every year.
Everyone should get a flu shot. That is the single best way to
prevent getting sick and passing the flu on to others. It is safe
for nearly everyone over six months of age.
The flu shot is vital for the high risk group, which includes:
- Children six months to five years
- Pregnant women
- People 50 and older
- People with certain chronic medical conditions such as asthma,
congestive heart failure, diabetes or HIV/AIDS
- People who live in nursing home or long-term care facilities
- Household contacts and caregivers of children and other at
This year, the Immunization Services Division at the U.S. Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention recommend adding children aged
24 to 59 months including household contacts of the children and
caregivers outside of the home to the high risk group.
Get your flu shot in October or November, before flu season begins.
If you procrastinated, go ahead and get the shot late. That is
better than skipping it altogether.
If needles aren’t your thing, try FluMist, a nasal spray
form of the vaccine that can be inhaled. This option is recommended
only for healthy, non-pregnant people between the ages of five
and 49 as it contains weakened live viruses instead of dead ones.
Hugs not handshakes: Healthy tips for preparing for the
It seems diabolical that flu season comes right in the middle
of holiday party season. If you really want to get to those special
celebrations, it is important for you to practice healthy habits.
Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, eat nutritious food
and avoid people who are sneezing and coughing.
If you didn’t escape illness this year, here are some tips
to avoid spreading your sickness:
- STAY HOME. If you do have the real thing – influenza
– you may be able to get antiviral medication from your
doctor if the virus is identified in the first couple of days.
Flu is a serious illness, and you will need to stay home for
a few days until the symptoms lighten up and your fever is down.
Remember, you are contagious one day before and for five days
after becoming ill.
- Cough or sneeze into your sleeve or elbow, not your hands
or a tissue or cloth. Watch the goofy video at www.coughsafe.com for the proper technique.
- Wash your hands often and don’t offer hand shakes to
anyone (anti-bacterial hand gels don’t provide the same
defense against the flu).
- Clean surfaces you touch with rubbing alcohol or a household
- Again, stay home. You need to rest, and give your co-workers
a gift not a virus.