It's that time of year again. You've undoubtedly seen signs around your office, on the street or at your local pharmacy asking, “did you get your flu shot?” With flu season upon us, it’s important to take extra precaution when out in public or near those who may have symptoms or the full-blown flu. While your first line of defense should be to get your annual flu shot, there are other steps to take to increase your immunity against the flu.
What is the flu?
The flu, or influenza, is a contagious respiratory illness caused by flu viruses that affects 5-20% of the U.S. population each year. Flu season typically starts during fall and peaks in January or February. People who have contracted the flu will usually exhibit some or all of the following symptoms:
- Fever or feeling feverish/chills
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle or body aches
- Vomiting and diarrhea (more common in children than adults)
Even though these are typical symptoms of the flu, complications can occur such as:
- Bacterial pneumonia
- Ear or sinus infections
More than 200,000 people are hospitalized for flu-related complications each year, but adults older than 65, children younger than 2 and those with chronic health conditions are at a higher risk of experiencing these complications.
How do I get the flu?
You contract the flu when someone with the flu virus coughs, sneezes, or talks and droplets containing their germs land in your mouth or nose. It is also possible to get the flu by touching objects and surfaces that contain the virus and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes.
How do I protect myself against the flu?
In addition to getting the flu shot, here are some simple, everyday tasks that will help you prevent the spread of the flu:
- Wash your hands regularly with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth as germs tend to travel this way
- Avoid close contact with sick people
- Cover your nose and mouth by using the inside of your elbow or with a tissue when you cough or sneeze
- If you have flu-like symptoms, stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone without the use of fever-reducing medicine
Remember to take these steps to protect yourself and the people around you from getting ill.