As a person who helps sick people in their time of need, I recognize that the flu is no joke, and once again has affected many people. The 2017-18 flu season has already been linked to multiple deaths throughout the country.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that getting the annual flu vaccine is the first and best way to protect yourself and your family. The peak of flu season is now through February and getting the shot can greatly reduce the illnesses associated with it.
The more people who get vaccinated, the more people will be protected. This includes people with certain health conditions that are more vulnerable to serious flu complications. The vaccination can reduce flu illnesses, doctors’ visits, missed work and school days due to the flu, as well as prevent flu-related hospitalizations.
Recommendations for this season
The CDC recommends only injectable flu vaccines (flu shots) this season. Some shots protect against multiple variations. Pregnant women may receive any recommended and age-appropriate flu vaccine.
The American Academy of Pediatrics advises that the flu vaccine should be given to everyone six months and older, as it is the best option for protection during the season. The annual flu vaccine significantly reduces a child’s risk of severe influenza and death. If your child shows flu-like symptoms, it is important to have them seen by their pediatrician. The best results are seen when treatment is started within 48 hours of symptom onset.
How effective will flu vaccines be this season?
Even with the vaccine, you may get sick, but it won’t be as severe. The predictability of the effectiveness of the flu vaccine can be hard to determine, as it can vary from year to year among different age and risk groups.
Recent studies show vaccine reduces the risk of flu illness by about 40 to 60 percent. More importantly, receiving the flu vaccine can reduce the severity of exposure to the viruses, and while it may not completely block you from getting it, it can greatly reduce the length and symptoms of the illness. Complications from the flu can potentiate the sicknesses associated with other medical problems of those with reduced immune systems. If you do catch the flu, there are antiviral medications like Tamiflu that can be used to treat it.
The CDC advises that the single best way to prevent seasonal flu is to get vaccinated each year, but good health habits and cleanliness have an impact, too. Practice good health habits, including washing your hands often and staying home when you are sick.
Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing.
Avoid touching your face, as germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth. Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, stay home and keep your distance from others. This will help prevent spreading your illness to others.
Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, as this will slow down the spread of germs. Know the difference between cleaning, disinfecting, and sanitizing. Cleaning usually uses soap and water to physically remove germs from surfaces. This process does not necessarily kill all germs, but by removing them, it lowers their numbers.
Disinfecting kills germs on surfaces or objects by using chemicals. This process does not necessarily clean dirty surfaces, but by killing germs on a surface after cleaning, it can further lower the risk of spreading infection.
According to the CDC, sanitizing lowers the number of germs on surfaces or objects to a safe level, by cleaning or disinfecting. It is judged by public health standards or requirements.
This flu season, practice good habits to avoid getting sick. Remember to help your immune system by getting plenty of sleep, exercising, managing stress, drinking plenty of fluids and eating nutritious food. Having a strong immune system keeps your body healthy, no matter the season.
Lt. Sam Pinto is a career firefighter, paramedic, nationally certified fire instructor, and certified fire and life safety educator. He can be reached at SPinto@iaff287.org.