The United States is in the midst of a brutal flu season that has not yet reached its peak. As of late January, the flu was widespread in every state except Hawaii, leading to nearly 15,000 hospitalizations and 53 pediatric deaths.
Short of barricading your family inside your home for the next few months, it may be impossible to completely avoid the flu. However, with some preventative steps, you can give yourself the best shot at making it through flu season healthy. Here are six tips to try and avoid the flu and what to do if you catch this nasty virus.
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Get a vaccine
The best way to prevent the flu is to get a flu vaccine every year. The vaccine is recommended for everyone over the age of 6 months. There are many different flu viruses, so the vaccine’s effectiveness can vary from season to season. How well the vaccine works depends on a person’s health and age and how well the vaccine is matched to the viruses circulating each year. The flu vaccine is estimated to reduce the risk of becoming infected with influenza by 40 to 60 percent. If a person who has been vaccinated gets the flu, the vaccine may lessen the severity of the illness and reduce the risk of hospitalization.
Keep it clean
Help keep the flu at bay by keeping yourself and your surroundings clean. Wash your hands often with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth to minimize germ spreading. Disinfect countertops, light switches, doorknobs and other surfaces that may be contaminated with the flu.
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Take your medicine
If you become ill with the flu, it can often be treated at home with over-the-counter medications and care. Flu symptoms like body aches can be treated with acetaminophen, ibuprofen or naproxen in many cases. Higher risk groups like young children, pregnant women, people over age 65 and those with certain medical conditions should seek medical care. A doctor can prescribe antiviral medications to lessen the severity of the illness and lower the risk of flu-related complications like pneumonia. These medications work best in the first two days of the illness, so be sure to see the doctor early.
Hydrate your body and lungs
Your respiratory system needs fluids to help fight the flu, so give it a hand by drinking fluids and enjoying some steam. “Staying hydrated is an important tool for preventing and treating cold and flu symptoms,” said Robert Palardy, Infection Control Preventionist/Director of Staff Development at Mission Hills Post Acute Care. “Should you get sick, plenty of fluids help break down mucus thus making it easier to clear out your lungs.”
Increase your fluid intake however you can, whether with some broth, juice or soup. Staying hydrated will help loosen mucus and make it easier to get out of your lungs. To battle congestion, sit in a warm, steamy bathroom while a hot shower runs to help you breathe. Run a cool mist humidifier in your home to help the air you breathe stay moist.
Don’t go to work or school while you are fighting the flu. Stay home and get rest. Going to the office won’t help your symptoms, and it puts everybody else at risk as well. The flu is highly contagious, and isolating yourself will help stop the spread to others. During an especially active flu season, it is as important as ever to try and keep the virus to yourself. Give yourself a much-needed rest and help the people around you stay healthy at the same time.
Watch for emergency signs
Having the flu is never fun, but the illness can become life-threatening fast. Knowing the signs of an emergency situation is crucial. In children, watch for trouble breathing, bluish skin, lethargy, not drinking enough, extreme irritability, a fever with a rash and flu symptoms that return with a worse cough. Infants need immediate care if they are unable to eat, produce no tears when trying or have significantly fewer wet diapers. In adults, watch for difficulty breathing, chest pain or pressure, sudden dizziness, confusion, severe vomiting or returning flu symptoms with a fever and worse cough.
The flu is no laughing matter, and it won’t feel like a minor illness if you get it. Be sure to take every precaution to try and avoid the flu and avoid spreading it to others if you get sick. There is no cure for the flu, but while you are waiting for it to run its course, getting rest and treating the symptoms will help you feel better.
This article was originally published by the Orange County Register.