It’s Influenza Season!
Steps for Avoiding the Flu
By Kirsten Falcone, RN
Hilbert College Wellness Center
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as of January 13, New York State’s reports of flu monitoring are “high.” There is a reporting rate of more than 10 patients per 100,000 population, in almost every county of the state, which is considered “widespread.” Though this is concerning, and nobody wants to come down with the flu, there is no need for alarm. There are ways you can avoid contracting it, and spreading it to others.
What is the flu? Influenza (flu) is a contagious infection that spreads most easily each year from October to May (flu season). A virus causes the flu. Coughing, sneezing and personal contact are the ways it spreads. Everyone is susceptible to the flu virus, but symptoms can vary by age and immunity status. Typical symptoms are fever with chills, sore throat, achy muscles, unexplained fatigue, coughing, headache and a runny or stuffy nose.
The flu causes thousands of deaths in the United States every year. Many more are hospitalized. Most of these people are immunity challenged, such as infants and young people, people 65 and older, pregnant women, and others with compromised immune systems.
Follow these Precautions. The following are steps you should take to make certain you do not contract the flu or give it to anyone else.
- Wash your hands often. Did you know that washing your hands is the best-proven way to reduce the spread of illness? Wash your hands before and after touching food, after using the bathroom, after contact with another person (such as shaking hands), and after they are soiled. You can also wash your hands as soon as you walk in the door of your dorm room or home, to keep your roommate or family from catching anything you drag in with you. Hands can become “soiled” even if they do not appear that way. Some ways this can happen are by touching your face, touching common surfaces that may contain microorganisms, or from poor hygiene.
- Carry hand sanitizer. If you are not able to wash your hands, using a gel hand sanitizer is an acceptable alternative. Use enough to wet the entire area, and rub it in until the gel is dry. (Two exceptions exist when hands are visibly soiled, or you have already used hand sanitizer several times.)
- Do not touch your face without clean hands. Always wash your hands or use hand sanitizer after you touch your face.
- Get a flu shot. It is not too late for a flu shot. There are pluses and minuses for attaining a flu shot. On the minus side, it may or may not contain the specific virus that is going around, it takes up to two weeks for it to protect you, you can still get sick from viruses not in the vaccine, and there is a minute chance you could get a reaction to the shot. On the flip side, the flu shot is inexpensive; it very well could protect you against exactly what is going around, and when populations are vaccinated, the incidence of flu-related deaths decreases.
- Stay away from sick people. The flu can spread through droplets in the air up to six feet away!
- Stay home if you are sick. If you have a fever or cannot contain your coughs and sneezes, just stay home. There are many immunocompromised people in the world (the elderly, the very young, pregnant women, and people with certain illnesses), and you would not want to be responsible for passing a deadly virus to them! The CDC recommends staying home for 24 hours or more after your fever “breaks” or ends.
- Cough and sneeze into a tissue, and then wash your hands. The popular advice given today is to cough and sneeze into your elbow, and this would be good advice if all elbows were large enough to stop every emission from your cough or sneeze. In my opinion, some of the spray does end up going around your elbow, ending up in the air. In addition, your elbow now needs cleaning! It is better just to have a tissue ready, and cough or sneeze into that. You could even cough into your bare hands (imagine that!), as long as you go wash them with soap and water, promptly!
- Call the doctor. Chances are your illness will run its course in a few days to a week or two. However, when in doubt, a quick call to the doctor will help you sleep better by reassuring you that your symptoms do point to the flu, and you may be a candidate for some antiviral medications. (Note: Antibiotics will not work with the flu virus, since they kill bacteria, not viruses.)
- Follow a healthy lifestyle. A healthy lifestyle is simply taking good care of your body and mind. Ways to do this are by getting 7 to 9 hours of sleep nightly, exercising at least 3 or 4 times per week, drinking plenty of water, avoiding pop and too much caffeine, eating healthfully, avoiding junk food, not smoking or vaping, not overdrinking, getting fresh air, spending time with positive people, following your faith, and more. If you do not follow a healthy lifestyle, you will be among the aforementioned immunocompromised people!
The flu is going around! If you take these steps, you will have a much higher likelihood of stopping it in its tracks.
For more information about the flu, visit these resources:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Weekly U.S. Influenza Surveillance Report Map:
How Flu Spreads:
How to Prevent the Flu
How long does the flu last?: