Flu season: Now that it's here, what should I do?

Every year in the United States, more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu complications, and about 36,000 people die from flu. We have already identified our first cases of influenza this year here in Tuba City and in other parts of Arizona. Read on to learn more about flu, and how to protect yourself this flu season.

What is the flu?

The flu is what we all call an infection caused by influenza virus. This is usually an illness of the lung and airways which is seasonal--it comes to our communities usually from December to as late as March. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. The best way to prevent this illness is by getting a flu shot each fall.

Symptoms of flu include: fever (usually high), headache, extreme tiredness, dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle aches, stomach symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea also can occur but is more common in children than adults.

The flu often feels different than a regular "common cold" because of the high fever and lots of body aches, especially the first two or three days.

Certain people are at higher risk than others of getting severe flu infections or complications. These include older people, young children, and those with certain health conditions such as lung diseases including asthma, heart disease, diabetes and other chronic illnesses. Complications of flu can include lung infection, dehydration, and worsening of other medical conditions such as congestive heart failure, asthma, or diabetes.

How flu spreads

Flu viruses spread by coughing and sneezing. They usually spread from person to person, or sometimes when a person touches a surface that has recently been coughed or sneezed on by someone with the flu. It is very contagious, and people can get others sick even one day before symptoms develop and up to five days after becoming sick. That means that you can pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick.

What You Should Do If You Get the Flu

¥ Rest

¥ Drink plenty of liquids

¥ Avoid using alcohol and tobacco

¥ Take medicines (Tylenol or Ibuprofen) to relieve the fever, headaches, and muscle aches

Influenza is caused by a virus, so antibiotics (like penicillin) don't work to cure it. While there are "antiviral" medicines that can work against some kinds of flu, the best way to prevent the flu is to get a flu shot each fall, before flu season, to stay away from other sick people (and stay home if you think you have the flu), and wash your hands.

Preventing the flu: Get vaccinated

The single best way to prevent the flu is to get a flu shot each fall. October or November is the best time to get vaccinated, but getting vaccinated in December or even later can still be helpful. It takes about two weeks after receiving the flu shot for antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection against the flu virus. In the meantime, you are still at risk for getting the flu. That's why it's better to get vaccinated early in the fall, before the flu season really gets under way.

Also, the flu shot has to be given every year- this is because the kinds of flu viruses in our community change every year, and each one requires a different vaccine. Unlike other vaccines (like measles, mumps, hepatitis) where you may be protected for life after your childhood shots, you must get a new flu shot every fall if you want to be protected.

Who Should Get Vaccinated?

Almost everyone who wants to reduce their chances of getting the flu can get vaccinated. However, certain people should get vaccinated each year.

People who should get vaccinated each year are:

¥ People at high risk for complications from the flu:

¥ All adults 65 years and older;

¥ People who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities;

¥ Adults and children 6 months and older with chronic heart or lung conditions, including asthma, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, or a weakened immune system (including immune system problems caused by medicines or by infection with HIV/AIDS);

¥ Children 6 months to 18 years of age who are on long-term aspirin therapy.

¥ Women who will be pregnant during the influenza season;

¥ All children 6 to 23 months of age;

¥ People with any condition that makes it hard to breathe or swallow, such as brain injury or disease, spinal cord injuries, seizure disorders, or other nerve or muscle disorders.

Other people recommended to receive vaccine:

¥ People 50 to 64 years of age

¥ People who can give flu to others at high risk for complications. Any person in close contact with someone in a high-risk group should get vaccinated. This includes all health-care workers, household members and out-of-home caregivers of children 6 to 23 months of age, household family members of patients with asthma, diabetes, kidney disease and a weakened immune system, and household members of people 65 years and older.

What are other steps that can be taken to prevent the flu?

There are other good health habits that can help prevent the flu. These are:

Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.

If possible, stay home from work, school, and errands when you are sick. You will help prevent others from catching your illness.

Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. Or cough and sneeze into your elbow if you will not be able to immediately wash your hands. It may prevent those around you from getting sick.

Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs.

Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs are often spread when a person touches something that has with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth.

Consider carrying some alcohol based hand sanitizer with you if you may not be able to get to a sink to wash your hands.

In Tuba City, you can make an appointment with your health care provider or at the walk in clinic to receive a flu vaccine or to receive more information about the flu. Contact the Tuba City Regional Health Care Corporation at 928-283-2501.

(TCRHCC Wellness Com-mittee is a group of health care providers, administrators, and community members whose aim is to promote health and wellness. Its members are Michelle Archuleta, Geri Bahe-Hernandez, RN; Daniel Borrero, Doctor of Dental Surgery; Jane Dougherty-Lake, Registered Dietitian; Kristin Graziano, Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine; Diana Hu, MD; Joann Kim, MD; Amanda Leib, MD; Katie Magee, MD; Sandra Magera, Registered Dietitian; Evie Maho; Sue Newman,Physical Threapist; Jane Oski, MD; and Dorothy Sanderson, MD.)

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