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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 tract.

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 risk groups

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 flu season
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 cleaner.
  • Again, stay home. You need to rest, and give your co-workers a gift not a virus.


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