Health Beat: And here we go again

Published 4:38 pm Saturday, October 1, 2016

Yep, it is me again getting on my soap box about the flu and how to prevent acquiring it this year.

The best way to prevent the flu is to get a flu vaccination. Signs have already appeared in front of most pharmacies relaying the message that flu vaccines are available.

There is no way to predict how severe the flu season will be this year. Although last year was relatively mild to moderate, it lasted well into May and June. The normal, designated flu season is from late September to late March. The peaks are usually in late November through March.

In recent years, people, especially children, who have an aversion to “needles” have been offered a flu mist that could be sprayed up the nostrils. This particular vaccine was made with a low dose live virus. The CDC has studied this intervention for years and have determined that it is has lost its effectiveness and is in fact not effective in preventing the flu. This year the CDC is advising against the use of the “flu mist” as a preventative measure for avoiding the flu. The CDC recommendation is for everyone 6 months of age and older to receive the flu vaccine injection.

If you do get the flu, there are some antiviral drugs that, if taken early enough, may reduce symptoms and the length of the illness. The best option is to do everything you can to prevent getting the flu.

The flu virus is spread when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks in close proximity to another individual. Close proximity is considered within three feet. The flu virus can also live on inanimate objects for short period of time. Therefore, touching surfaces or objects that have been in close contact with a sick individual then touching your nose, eyes or mouth may expose you to the flu virus.

People infected with the flu virus can spread the virus to others beginning one day before flu symptoms develop and up to seven days after becoming sick. Thus, the flu may be spread by an individual before that individual even knows they are sick. Persons with weakened immune symptoms may be able to infect others past seven days of the initial onset of symptoms. The time from when a person is exposed to the flu and symptoms develop is usually one to four days, with 48 hours being the average.

OK, we know you should get a flu vaccination. It is usually effective up to 90 to 95 percent of the time. There are also other measures that may help you avoid the flu or spreading it to others if you have the flu.

Avoid contact with anyone who might have the flu. They probably do not feel like have company anyway, and unless you are a healthcare or family care provider, let them rest.

If you think you have had the flu, stay home and away from others until you have been fever free (without the help of Tylenol or aspirin) for 24 hours.

Cover your sneezes and coughs. Dispose of tissues immediately.

Wash your hands frequently. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Clean and disinfect surfaces with a disinfectant that specifically states it is capable of killing the flu virus. Any Clorox based cleaner is a good option.

Avoid touching your eyes, mouth and nose. These are the easy entry ways for all germs.

Watch and listen to news reports regarding flu activity in your area.

If you begin to feel sick at work or public gatherings, go home as soon as possible.

Many respiratory viruses circulate during flu season. Severe colds can mimic the flu. The flu usually develops suddenly. Severe muscle aches, fatigue, high fevers with chills and severe headaches are pretty good indicators of the flu. Some individuals may develop nausea and vomiting, but these symptoms are usually associated with other viruses and not influenza.

For more information you may access Stay safe, and enjoy the cooler weather as it begins to approach.

Billie Whitfield, RN, CIC, is the infection control and prevention nurse at Vidant Beaufort Hospital and can be reached at 252-975-4186.