Mind & Body
How to Prepare for Flu Season
10/2/2017 10:33:32 PM
Flu Season

Most of us look forward to fall. Kids return to school, temperatures drop, and fall festivals provide weekend entertainment. Unfortunately, autumn also marks the beginning of flu season.

Each year, literally millions of people in the United States become infected with the flu. The Louisiana Office of Public Health estimates that between 450,000 and 900,000 residents in our state alone get sick with the flu annually.

Flu season usually doesn’t start before October, but this year it appears to be ramping up early.

"We are seeing more flu cases this year earlier than we ever have,” says Dr. Bob Anderson of Calcasieu Urgent Care. "Since the beginning of September, we’ve had several people test positive.”

Anyone who’s had the flu knows how miserable it can make you feel. The primary symptoms are fever, aches, chills, fatigue, weakness, coughing, and headache. Some people also experience sneezing, a sore throat and a stuffy nose. Symptoms persist for at least a few days — sometimes as long as a week.

For most people, the flu is simply unpleasant. But for some, particularly people at high risk of complications, it can be much worse. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that the flu results in between 140,000 and 710,000 hospitalizations and 12,000 to 56,000 deaths in the United States each year.

Although there is no guaranteed method for preventing the flu, you can take steps to substantially reduce your risk of becoming infected.

The most important action you should take every year is to get a flu shot, which the CDC recommends for almost everyone. There are actually many different flu viruses, and which ones are causing outbreaks continuously changes — that’s why there’s a new vaccine every year.

"I recommend getting a flu shot as soon as possible,” Anderson says. "It takes two weeks to build immunity, so sooner is better.”

Even if you don’t manage to get vaccinated right away, you should do so whenever you can, even if it’s late in the season. 

Vaccination is especially important for people who are at high risk of serious flu complications. This includes children younger than five, people age 65 and older, those with chronic health conditions like asthma or diabetes, and pregnant women. There’s some evidence that vaccinating a pregnant woman protects her baby from getting the flu for several months after birth. That’s especially important because infants younger than six months are too young to get a flu shot.

Very few people should not get a flu shot, but those who shouldn’t include anyone who has severe, life-threatening allergies to flu vaccines and those who have ever had Guillain-Barré syndrome.

Serious side effects related to the flu shot are extremely rare. It will not give you the flu, and it will not cause autism. Also, the CDC recommends that FluMist, a nasal spray version of the flu vaccine, not be used this year because it was found to be ineffective in preventing illness in previous flu seasons.

If you do come down with the flu this year, hang in there. Take antiviral drugs if your doctor prescribes them. They might make your symptoms milder and shorten the length of time you’re sick. 

"I am a big advocate of getting tested as soon as you suspect you might have the flu so that you can start the medication as soon as possible,” Anderson says. "The medication is most effective if it is started in the first 48 hours, so don’t wait.”

Getting a flu shot isn’t the only thing you can do to prevent the flu. You should also:
  • Avoid close contact with sick people.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. If they aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that could be contaminated with flu viruses.
Posted by: Andrea Mongler | Submit comment | Tell a friend

Categories: Health

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