While most of us will anticipate the fun of the holiday season, a dark cloud becomes prevalent around the same time: flu season. It begins in October and lingers into early spring, with January and February being the peak time.
Occasionally, I worry that some people confuse the flu with the common cold. Please don’t say, “it’s only the flu, he or she will be OK.” It’s not all right, particularly because it is so preventable.
It is neither hysterical nor hyperbole to say that the flu can be dangerous.
Last year, an estimated 80,000 people died from the flu and its complications, according to The Associated Press, quoting statistics from the Centers for Disease Control. It was the highest number of flu-related deaths in 40 years.
Most people get the flu from people-to-people contact, usually through coughing, sneezing or even just talking to someone with the flu. And it often doesn’t manifest into symptoms for five to seven days before you get sick.
Also, it is important to recognize who needs special scrutiny because they are more apt to be sicker if they get the flu. This includes children (especially those younger than age 5), adults over age 65, pregnant women (and postpartum for up to two weeks), residents of nursing and long-term care facilities, and Native Americans and Alaska Natives. Often, if you are already affected with a serious medical condition, from neurological disorders to kidney and liver diseases, you face a greater risk.
The starting point to prevent the flu is to take steps — all of which are easy to implement — that will lessen your chances of being a victim.
- Get a flu shot. Experts recommend an annual flu shot for everyone six months of age and older.
- Wash your hands when applicable and possible.
- Always cover your mouth when you cough; preferably, cough into your arm, not your hands.
- Stay home if you feel sick.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
- If you or your child gets sick with a respiratory illness, like flu, limit contact with others as much as possible to help prevent spreading illness. Stay home (or keep your child home) for at least 24 hours after fever is gone except to seek medical care or for other necessities.
- If an outbreak of flu or another illness occurs, follow public health advice. This may include information about how to increase the distance between people and other measures.
In addition to these helpful tips, be sure to keep frequently touched items such as doorknobs, keyboards, telephones, remote controls, and cellphones clean, and wipe down common areas often. If you work in an office or school environment, wipe your desk regularly and use hand sanitizer to help prevent the spread of germs.
To familiarize yourself with the flu, two websites are particularly helpful. One is sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at www.cdc.gov and the other is a New Jersey site at www.nj.gov.
This is also a perfect time to check with your family, friends, and neighbors and ask them if they’ve had a flu shot. Be sure to pay attention to the elderly, who might be hesitant to get one because they don’t know where to go or have accessibility issues. Today, flu shots are readily available at many drugstores, and you don’t even need an appointment. It only takes a few minutes, and it could save your life.
That’s my take, what’s yours?