Influenza (the flu) has officially arrived in the area, and now is the time to take steps to protect yourself and your family. Seasonal influenza, commonly called “the flu,” is caused by influenza viruses, which infect the respiratory tract (i.e., the nose, throat, lungs). Unlike many other viral respiratory infections, such as the common cold, the flu can cause severe illness and life-threatening complications in many people. It is estimated that in the United States, each year on average 5% to 20% of the population gets the flu and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from seasonal flu-related complications. Flu seasons are unpredictable and can be severe. Some people, such as older people, young children, pregnant women, and people with certain health conditions, are at high risk for serious flu complications. The best way to prevent seasonal flu is by getting a flu vaccination each year.
Flu vaccines protect against the influenza viruses that research indicates will be most common during the upcoming season. Everyone six months and older should get vaccinated against the flu every year. Immunity sets in about two weeks after vaccination.
What causes the flu? Contagious viruses that spread when infected people cough or sneeze into the air are the main culprit, but people can also become infected by touching something with a flu virus on it and then touching their mouth or nose.
But there are steps you can take to protect your family. Be sure to get a vaccination every year. The vaccine comes in a flu shot or a nasal-spray flu vaccine. “Antibodies develop and protect the person from the virus two weeks after the vaccine is given,” explains Dr. Evans. These vaccinations are the most effective method for flu prevention, although they are not guaranteed to protect you against the flu.
Hannibal Clinic Internist Dr. Priscilla Long adds that the flu can lead to worse complications such as bacterial pneumonia, dehydration, and exacerbation of chronic medical conditions such as congestive heart failure, asthma, or diabetes. In children, the flu may lead to sinus problems and ear infections.
To stay in the best health, especially during flu season, Dr. Long recommends that you wash your hands often, Avoid touching your face, eat a healthy diet, and exercise regularly. Stop smoking.
Smoking irritates the lining of your nose and may allow flu viruses easier access to you.
And get vaccinated!
If you think that you are suffering from the flu, see your doctor early. There are laboratory tests that can confirm the diagnosis and there is treatment available if you have been ill for less than 48 hours.