Now that fall’s cooler weather is on its way, the last place you want to be is stuck indoors, nursing the high fevers and chills that come with influenza.
Flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by a variety of viruses. Check out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website to learn more at www.cdc.gov/flu/about/viruses/index.htm.
It can cause mild to severe illness and at times can lead to death. Some people – such as older people, young children and people with certain health conditions – are at high risk for serious flu complications. The best way to prevent the flu is by getting vaccinated each year. Don’t wait to get that vaccine, either. The CDC recommends getting your annual flu shot as soon as the vaccine becomes available.
An annual flu shot is needed because flu viruses are constantly changing. Also, the protection offered by a flu vaccine declines over time, depending on your age and health.
Each year, laboratories around the world collect flu viruses to determine what strains will be most active during the upcoming flu season. From this information three virus strains are selected for the flu vaccine that is offered in the fall.
The timing of flu is very unpredictable and can vary from season to season. Flu activity most commonly peaks in the U.S. in January or February. However, seasonal flu activity can begin as early as October and continue as late as May.
The CDC advises everyone age 6 months and older to get a flu vaccine every year. It is especially important that certain people get vaccinated, including pregnant women, people age 50 and older or younger than 5, anyone with certain chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes and asthma, and people who live in or work in nursing homes or longterm care facilities.
It takes about two weeks for your body to build antibodies after you receive the shot. During that time you may still get the flu. Whether you get your vaccination early or late in the flu season, you will be protected for the entire year.
If you are caring for someone who has the flu, be sure they are as comfortable as they can be, and follow the recommendations of their doctor. They should get plenty of rest and drink clear fluids. A humidifier in the room might make breathing easier. Gargling with salt water is a great way to sooth a sore throat.
If possible, limit contact with other members of the household. Also make sure to protect yourself by frequently washing your hands and surfaces where germs are easily spread.
Seek immediate care if the sick person has difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, purple or blue lips, pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen, confusion, sudden dizziness or severe or persistent vomiting.
The best way to protect your loved ones from getting the flu is to have caregivers and household members get the flu vaccine as soon as it’s available.
If you have any questions about this year’s flu strain or the vaccination itself, talk to your physician.
Marilyn Ranson is a public relations specialist with NorthBay Healthcare in Fairfield, which is a member of the Solano Coalition for Better Health.