Posted on: Oct 26, 2020
Many individuals mistakenly think of the flu as a gastrointestinal illness, during which one experiences nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Although it’s not entirely wrong to refer to that type of ailment as the “stomach flu,” influenza or the flu is a respiratory condition that is much more serious and can even be life-threatening, especially in the elderly.
In older adults, especially those who are frail, influenza can be fatal. Two years ago, there was a very aggressive strain of the flu that caused death even in healthy adults. Influenza can also lead to secondary infections of a serious nature, such as pneumonia. Influenza is viral as opposed to bacterial in nature, so there are no antibiotics to treat the flu. There are anti-viral medications that can reduce the course of the flu, but they must be taken within 72 hours of the illness appearing; often, folks simply don’t realize that they have the flu until beyond 72 hours. So, what’s a person to do?
It’s vital to focus on prevention, especially in the elderly! Here are 5 strategies to prevent the flu:
The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) states everyone 6 months of age or older should get a flu vaccine every year. It is especially important adults over age 65, and anyone with multiple chronic conditions obtain a flu vaccine annually. A new influenza vaccine is developed every year based on data scientists collect about flu patterns from the prior season. So last year’s flu shot will not help you this year – you need to get re-vaccinated every year. Getting a flu vaccine helps reduce the spread of influenza by increasing what is known as herd immunity – the more people who get vaccinated, the less likelihood of the flu spreading – which is good news for everyone! It’s also especially important for health care, childcare, and food service workers to get vaccinated since they work with vulnerable populations and/or have a great deal of contact with the general public.
Timing of your vaccination is important since it takes about 2 weeks from the time of your vaccination for antibodies which protect you from getting the flu to develop. In general, that means late October and early November are a good time to get your flu shot, but it really is never too late in the flu season to get vaccinated.
And if you don’t care for needles, there are other vaccination options – check with your local health department, pharmacy, or healthcare provider.
Most health insurance plans cover flu vaccination, some employers also pay for flu vaccines, and many public health departments have flu clinics for those who can’t afford paying out of pocket. Ask around and you may be pleasantly surprised to learn that your vaccine is of no or minimal cost to you. And getting vaccinated can save you tremendous costs by reducing days lost from work, costly medical supplies and treatments, or even hospitalization related to the consequences of influenza.
Beyond vaccination, handwashing is the single most effective way to reduce the transmission of infection. The influenza virus is spread through a mechanism known as droplet spread. People can come in to contact with flu germs on objects that have been contaminated by someone who has the flu and coughed or sneezed, or by shaking hands with people who have carried the flu virus on a droplet that they picked up somewhere. These droplets are not visible, so it’s important to wash your hands throughout the day, but especially after making contact with someone who may have been exposed to the flu or have the flu themselves, and also before you touch your own hands to your mouth, nose, eyes, or face. According to the CDC, hand hygiene is one of the most important ways to prevent the spread of infections.
Even though you may be a stoic individual who feels compelled to go to work or to maintain your normal level of outside activity, you are putting others at risk by doing these things when you have flu symptoms. Stay home and take care of yourself. Important self-care tips include getting adequate rest, drinking fluids, and if you are having achiness accompanied by a fever, taking over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol). Your local pharmacy can provide additional suggestions for other symptoms you may have, such as a cough. Be sure to ask them if they can deliver the medications to you or have a friend pick the medications up to avoid infecting others by going to the pharmacy yourself.
Although this may seem like Etiquette 101, it’s an important way to reduce the spread of those influenza virus droplets mentioned earlier. It’s good practice to cough or sneeze into a tissue which you can then dispose of, or you can cough or sneeze into your bent elbow, which can minimize droplet spread and reduce transmission by contaminated hands. If you do cough or sneeze into your hands, be sure to wash them as quickly as possible.
Research tells us that eating a well-balanced diet, getting adequate sleep, and having a regular exercise regimen can generally keep us healthier than if we don’t do those things. These approaches are relevant to minimizing your exposure to or risk of the flu and may, in fact, help you recover more quickly if you do happen to get the flu.
Influenza can have serious consequences and can be quite debilitating
even for healthy individuals. It’s important to get the help you need
to keep up with everyday tasks while you’re recovering. It’s not
uncommon to feel compromised for a week to 10 days which can be a long
time to be on your own – so reach out to friends and family to ask for
the help you need, even if it’s making a bowl of soup or a run to the
pharmacy or grocery store to get those needed supplies. And if you have
more serious underlying medical conditions, it is critical to discuss
your symptoms with your healthcare provider as there may be implications
for other medical conditions you have, like diabetes, COPD,
and the like.
Stay healthy this season – and practice prevention to avoid getting tricked by the flu!