‘Tis the season...flu season. December through March sees a spike in people contracting influenza.1 Contracting a mild flu is inconvenient and can lead to lost days of work or school, but if you are vulnerable or contract a severe strain of the virus, it can lead to hospitalization or even death. It's a serious business.
It's important to not only defend ourselves against the flu, but to be responsible citizens and prevent it from spreading to people at high risk.
Flu is particularly tricky to prevent and combat because of how and when it spreads. People with the flu can spread it to others from 6 feet away, and they can be contagious even before the symptoms start. So, by the time you're avoiding your sneezing colleague, it might already be too late.
The Bronx has a population of almost 1.5 million people.2 Every day, we come into contact with strangers and share public spaces with them. By following these steps, we can help protect ourselves and the people around us from this contagious virus.
The CDC generally advises that everyone over the age of 6 months should get an annual flu vaccination.3
Between 2017-2018, it is estimated that flu vaccination prevented over 7 million illnesses, 109,000 flu-related hospitalizations, and 8,000 flu-associated deaths.4
It's particularly important for people at high risk to be vaccinated. This includes:
- Children under 5 years old. In children, the vaccine can be lifesaving. A 2017 study found that flu vaccination reduced the risk of flu-associated death by 65% among healthy children.5
- Pregnant women. As well as protecting themselves and their babies from complications during pregnancy, pregnant women who get a flu vaccine are also helping to protect their babies from flu for the first few months after their birth.6
- Adults over 65. Influenza is particularly dangerous for people over the age of 65. Around 70%-85% of seasonal flu-related deaths have occurred in this age group.7
If you have any of the following diseases or conditions, you are also at high risk for contracting the flu:
- HIV/ AIDS
- Heart disease/ Stroke
- Children with neurologic conditions
There are many types of vaccines available. The one that's most appropriate for you will depend on your age group and if you have specific allergies or health conditions. Your primary care physician will be able to prescribe one that's most suitable for you.
As well as getting the vaccine, there are some things you can do to stop influenza and other diseases from spreading.
- Don't get too close to sick people.
- If you have flu-like symptoms, go home and stay there until your fever has gone for at least 24 hours. You can leave for essentials or to visit your doctor/pharmacy, but that's it!
- You know the rhyme: Coughs and sneezes spread diseases. Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze and then throw that thing away. No tissue? Sneeze into your upper arm. If you sneeze into your hand, you're just going to contaminate whatever you touch.
- Wash your hands thoroughly and regularly with soap and water. We're talking after you go to the toilet, before you prepare or eat food, after touching your dog, before and after caring for sick people, and after sneezing or blowing your nose. As a secondary option, use alcohol gel.
- Avoid touching your nose, mouth, and eyes.
- Disinfect surfaces that may be contaminated.8
Have you already got the flu? Symptoms present differently depending on the strain and the patient, but include:
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Body aches
Vomiting and diarrhea are also symptoms in some cases, especially in kids.9
If you suspect you're already infected, there are prescription medicines that can help treat the illness, shorten the time you are sick, and prevent serious secondary complications. Antiviral medication is not available over-the-counter. So, you'll need a prescription from your internist, family doctor, or primary care physician.
You'll want to act fast, as anti-viral drugs are most effective if treatment starts within 48 hours of contracting the virus.10 Search for a doctor near you and book an appointment right away if you suspect you have the flu, particularly if you are in any of the high-risk categories mentioned earlier.
By vaccinating ourselves, we are also helping to protect those around us. We can also help prevent the spread of flu by practicing basic hygiene. Let's beat flu together.