The Flu Season: Surviving This Year
With this year’s supply of flu vaccine cut in half and hundreds of people not inoculated, does that mean we forgo winter activities? Winter normally finds us enjoying a variety of activities, like spending times with friends, huddling close at sporting events or strolling through a gallery or mall. But will this proximity to others expose us to the virus that causes influenza?
Influenza has been around a long time. The first major epidemic was recorded by Hippocrates and dates back to 412 BC. Early in the 20th century, a pandemic, during which rates of illness and death from influenza related complications increase worldwide, killed 20 to 40 million people.
In the last hundred years physicians have learned more about various strains of flu and developed vaccines to help prevent outbreaks. But the illness is still unpredictable. Every year 5 to 20 percent of people in the U.S get the flu, and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from complications. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, flu is responsible for more than 36,000 deaths in the United States per year.
Symptoms of flu include a high fever, headache, extreme fatigue, runny or stuffy nose, cough, sore throat, muscle aches, and possible gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea and vomiting. The virus can cause complications such as bacterial pneumonia and dehydration, and can also worsen chronic medical conditions like congestive heart failure, asthma and diabetes.
The flu is spread when respiratory droplets from an infected person’s coughing or sneezing are deposited on the mouth or nose of someone nearby. People can also get the flu from touching something with the virus on it and then touching their own mouth or nose. Some viruses or bacteria have been found to live for over two hours on surfaces like shopping carts, doorknobs and tables.
So in this year where the virus may be less restrained, how can we minimize our risk of contracting flu? First, maintain good habits—get enough sleep, eat a balanced diet, exercise, and practice some form of stress relief. In addition, wash your hands often, soaping for around thirty seconds (long enough to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice). Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, and avoid touching your nose, eyes or mouth.
Finally, avoid close contact with people who are ill, and stay home yourself if you’re feeling under the weather. You may miss a fun winter outing, but if you avoid the flu, you’ll be glad you made the effort to protect yourself and others.
If you have questions regarding flu prevention, symptoms or treatment, talk with your physician or call askAAMC at 443-481-4000. A trip to the Emergency Department can be prevented by reaching out to your doctor or the caring nurses at askAAMC.