Fight the flu!

Fight the flu!

by Barb Green, Parish Nurse

Milton, Wis.

 

Influenza (or flu) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by viruses that infect the nose, throat and lungs. People often blame intestinal upsets on the flu, but this is a misnomer.

Signs and symptoms of influenza may have some or all of these: fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue. Children may also experience vomiting and diarrhea.

The flu is a serious disease that can lead to hospitalization and sometimes death. People over 65, children under 5, pregnant women and people with certain health conditions—such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease—and those who live in facilities like nursing homes are at a greater risk for serious complications should they get the flu. Complications include bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections, dehydration and worsening of a chronic medical condition.

Influenza viruses spread mainly by droplets when those with the flu cough, sneeze or talk and these droplets come in contact with another’s mouth, nose or eyes. Less often a person may get the flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth, eyes or nose.

A person might pass the flu to someone else before they know they are ill. Most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to 5-7 days after becoming sick. Young children and people with weakened immune systems might be able to infect others for even longer.

The Center for Disease Control recommends a yearly flu vaccine as the first and most important step in protecting against flu viruses. Each year’s flu vaccine protects against the three viruses that research suggests will be most common for that year. This year there is a vaccine that protects against four viruses, and one that is more potent for older people.

There is also a nasal spray vaccine and one for those who are allergic to eggs. Ask your doctor which is best for you. The vaccine is not approved for children younger than 6 months of age, or those who have had a severe allergic reaction to the vaccine.

The viruses in the flu shot are killed so you cannot get the flu from a flu shot. Minor side effects that could occur are: soreness, redness or swelling where the shot was given, low-grade fever and aches. It takes about two weeks for antibodies to the flu to develop after vaccination.

Since the flu season may run from October to May, peaking in January, it is important for people to get their flu shots before the virus starts circulating in their community. Even though the vaccine may not be 100% effective in preventing the flu, it does reduce the seriousness of the disease should you get it.

Prevention measures in addition to the vaccine include:

•avoid close contact with those who are sick

•stay home when you are sick

•cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing

•wash your hands often

•avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth

•practice other good health habits.

Good health habits include cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces at home, school and work; getting plenty of sleep; being physically active; managing stress; drinking plenty of fluids; and eating nutritious food. Black-eyed peas, carrots, tea, yogurt, tomatoes, mushrooms and almonds are among the foods that help fight the flu.

Don’t let influenza get you or a loved one down this winter. Get your flu shot now.

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