Depending who you ask, January might be the most depressing month of the year. It’s grey, you’ve got bills, perhaps a cold and, according to some experts, a one in five chance of getting the flu.
This year’s flu season has been a bad one and it’s about to get worse. A weekly report from the Center for Disease Control says the illness has already claimed 21 children. The dominant strain this season – H3N2 – tends to be quite serious, and it’s drifted from other strains in the flu vaccine. That makes flu shots less effective, though experts suggest to get vaccinated regardless.
There’s no relief in sight for folks at risk of the flu. In fact, that risk is now higher for people in the west and north eastern United States. The CDC says Oregon, California, Nevada, Arizona, Alaska and Maine can expect more flu cases in the next few weeks. Meaning? It’s time to brush up on a few flu prevention tips as it comes to a city near you.
First, a little context. The flu might mask itself as a cold in its early stages. They’re both contagious viruses of the upper respiratory tract, and both common in late winter and early spring.
Consider these symptoms to help distinguish between them:
Cold – Comes with congestion and a sore throat. Sneezing is common and you might get chest pain and a headache.
Flu – Like the cold, you might get congestion and a sore throat with chest pain and coughing. But you’re more likely to have a headache with the flu, along with muscle aches and fatigue. Flu symptoms tend to appear quickly too, and usually come with a 100º+ fever that typically lasts three to four days.
Take your temperature to tell if you’ve got a cold or the flu. You’ve probably got the latter if you have a temperature between 100º annd 102ºF.
Take your temperature to tell if you’ve got a cold or the flu. You’ve probably got the latter if you have a temperature between 100º annd 102ºF. Note children are at higher risk of an extreme fever from the flu than adults.
The flu is short for ‘influenza’ – a highly contagious illness caused by influenza viruses A or B. It’s more serious than the common cold because it can lead to life-threatening complications like pneumonia. Risk is higher in children, the eldery and people with weakened immune systems. That includes patients with diabetes, heart disease and HIV.
Some of the myths and facts about the flu…
Fact: You can die from the flu
The flu can be deadly when it leads to pneumonia. The flu can also make existing conditions worse and lead to infection. According to the CDC, 90% of flu fatalities are in adults over 65.
Myth: Antibiotics can treat the flu
Antibiotics can only treat infections. They’re useless against the flu.
Fact: You can catch the flu from pigs
Most strains of the flu appear to originate in Asia, where humans often work in close proximity with lifestock. You’ve heard of H1N1 – that’s Avian bird flu. Swine (pigs) can catch this strain from birds and transmit the virus through air droplets, which can be picked up by humans.
Myth: You can get the flu from the flu vaccine
Flu vaccines are made to guard against what experts believe are the dominant flu strains each season. They’re made of dead influenza strains. You cannot catch the flu from them.
Fact: There are different kinds of the flu
The flu is a persistent and diversified virus, with over 100 strains, broadly categorized between types A, B and C. All three can mutate. That’s why you can never be immune to the flu – though type A tends to be more aggressive and mutates every few years. This season’s dominant flu virus is an A type, H3N2.
Myth: You’ve got the stomach flu
It’s time to pour cold water on this one. What most folks call ‘stomach flu’ is often a form of GI inflammation called gastroenteritis inflammation, which comes with pleasantries like cramps, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. That’s enough to fool many people into thinking it’s flu of the stomach. But in reality, there’s no such thing as ‘stomach flu’.
Fact: The flu comes in waves
This is true. The typical flu season runs from winter to early spring, with two waves of activity. The latter is often dominated by a different strain. It’s a nasty series of virus, always mutating in its efforts to spread.
Myth: There’s no point getting a flu vaccine because the virus keeps changing
Experts say you should get vaccinated regardless because it can help you recover quicker and make it less severe. Children, the eldery and those with weakend immune systems should especially be vaccinated. The CDC also recommends anti-viral drugs in patients at higher risk of complications.
The flu spreads between people through respiratory secretions, often among large groups in close proximity, like a daycare, nursing home, classroom or office. You can pick it up when someone coughs, sneezes or with direct exposure to their germs.
Practice the following flu prevention tips from the CDC to keep the flu bug away – or at least make it work harder to spread and make your life miserable.
Don’t Share Drinks Or Utensils – Even just touching a contaminated item can infect you with the virus when you touch or rub your eyes, nose or mouth. That’s why frequent handwashing is so important if you’re serious about flu prevention.
Formalities aside, hand-shaking is a first class ticket to spreading germs, be it the flu or otherwise. Between guys (and in casual settings), try a fist-bump instead,
Get Vaccinated – This might be one of the most effective flu prevention tips, say officials, when it’s available in your area. The best time to get it is early fall, though getting it in winter is fine if you have yet to do it. Note that egg-free vaccinations are available for patients 19-49 with egg allergies.
Patients 65 and up can get a stronger dose of the flu vaccine, called Fluzone, which might be more effective for them.
Avoid Germs – Flu prevention is about minimizing your exposure to germs. While it’s not always possible to avoid sick people, you can at least practice good hygiene. Wash your hands often, with hot, soapy water. Carry an alcohol-based hand-sanitizer with you and bring disinfectant wipes to clean any surfaces you think might be contaminated.
Avoid touching your eyes, mouth and nose without washing your hands first, and wash used plates, cups and cutlery in a dishwasher or sink with detergent and hot water.
Finally, consider that, formalities aside, hand-shaking is a first class ticket to spreading germs, be it the flu or otherwise. Between guys (and in casual settings), try a fist-bump instead, which we refer to around here in the marketing department at Natural Health Source, as a man pound (thanks for that Hank Moody!)
Stay Healthy – Your membership at the local Y really does pay dividends here. Folks who exercise at least four days a week have a better chance of fighting germs and avoiding the flu. Eat healthy too, with a balanced diet, including plenty of fruits and vegetables. Try to sleep between seven and nine hours a night to give your immune system a helping hand.
Quit Smoking – Add higher risk of the flu to the list of many reasons why you should quit smoking. Smokers appear more likely to develop flu complications too, and fatalities from them are higher in those who partake in this nasty habit.
Take Your Medicine – Finally, despite all your efforts, you might still get the flu. It happens – ask your doctor about antiviral drugs Tamiflu and Relenza. You’ll need to take them within two days of getting sick for their benefits.
Be considerate of others as well. Stay at home if you get sick and stay there at least until your fever is gone (if you don’t take medicine). Sneeze into your elbow – not your hands – which can transmit germs and infect others. Blow your nose in tissues and throw them out (please!) so others don’t find them. Be a nice sick person, take these flu prevention tips, and you’re in better shape to tell the flu virus where to go.