It’s right around the corner. That’s right — flu season. And like clockwork, the familiar muscle aches, coughs, chills, headaches, runny noses, sneezes and sore throats return, too. With the kids back in school, there’s also a much greater chance that they could catch a bug and bring it home to share with the rest of the family.
But that doesn’t mean it’s too early to start thinking about how to fight back against the formidable flu. Learn steps you can take to avoid it, the pros and cons of a flu shot and how you can weather through the season without the fevers and sneezing.
It’s back again
People get the flu because there are new strains of the virus forming every year, says Dr. Fermin Leguen, an infectious disease specialist and director of clinical services at the Southern Nevada Health District.
“It means that most people have never been exposed to these viruses and therefore have not developed their own protection or immunity against the annual season circulating flu viruses, which makes them sensitive to flu viral infections and the subsequent development of flu sickness,” Leguen says.
“The flu could also be acquired when individuals touch their mouth or nose after getting in contact with items contaminated with flu particles, e.g., desk or table surface, phones and books.”
Dr. Carl Fichtenbaum, a flu expert and professor at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, says to steer clear of the flu, some steps include covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze. And if you use your hands to do so, wash them or sanitize them immediately to prevent accidentally placing the flu on a surface or onto another person with your hands.
“If you are sick, don’t go out into public and call off work or school so you don’t give it to others,” Fichtenbaum says.
Dr. Glenn Hardesty of Texas Health Prosper says unfortunately there aren’t any quick fixes for the flu.
“Once you have the flu, little can be done,” Hardesty says. “The flu has to run its course, typically one week. Drink plenty of fluids and take over-the-counter pain medications to keep the fever down.”
And experts agree that the best way to keep from getting the flu is to get the proper immunization every year, i.e., the flu shot. Fichtenbaum says it is a very safe vaccine that often may prevent or lessen the impact.
“In most years, the vaccine prevents 60 percent to 80 percent of infections,” he says. “When more people get the shot, it protects the greater community by creating something called ‘herd immunity.’ The cons are that shots hurt for a few minutes after given, and some years they don’t work as well as we would hope.”
Hardesty adds: “Outside of immunization, ill persons should stay home from work — and limit contact with those who are well in the household, because the flu is spread by coughing, not just touch. Make sure family members practice frequent hand-washing and keep cooking surfaces disinfected. Of course, proper rest, diet and exercise all play a role in all disease prevention, as well.”