Influenza (flu) is an unwelcome part of the holiday season, often spreading with the arrival of cold weather and sidelining many people from enjoying festive activities. However, by taking certain precautions we can ward off infections and stay healthy.
The best way to avoid the flu is by getting vaccinated each year, which can keep you from getting sick or make your symptoms milder, especially if you have a serious chronic health condition. Remember, it's not too late to get vaccinated. Flu season peaks between December and March, and runs right through May. Furthermore, being vaccinated helps protect others around you who are more vulnerable to serious flu illness, reducing the risk of hospitalizations and deaths. Vaccination also helps protect women during pregnancy and their babies for up to six months after they are born.
To help stop the spread of flu viruses, take these everyday preventive actions:
- Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
- If you are sick with flu-like illness, stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone without the use of fever-reducing medicine. The exception to this recommendation is going out to get medical care or for other necessities.
- While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them.
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Germs spread this way.
- Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs like the flu.
Despite widespread claims, a flu vaccine cannot cause flu illness. The vaccines are made either with flu viruses that have been ‘inactivated’ and are therefore not infectious, or with none at all. The nasal spray flu vaccine does contain live viruses. However, the viruses are weakened, and therefore cannot cause flu illness.
Most people who get the flu will have mild illness and will recover in less than two weeks. Some people, however, are more likely to get flu complications that can result in hospitalization and sometimes death. Those groups of people who are at high risk for developing flu-related complications include:
- Pregnant women
- People who have medical conditions including asthma, neurological and neurodevelopmental conditions, chronic lung disease, heart disease, blood disorders, kidney disorders, liver disorders, metabolic disorders or weakened immune system due to disease or medication
- People younger than 19 years of age who are receiving long-term aspirin therapy
- People who are morbidly obese (Body Mass Index, or BMI, of 40 or greater)
If you or someone you care for falls into one of those categories, it is important to take precautions to lessen the risk of severe illness.
The more people who follow these precautions, the more we can cut the spread of flu viruses and have a healthier holiday season.