As influenza is rapidly spreading across the U.S., many are searching for ways to prevent contracting the potentially deadly disease. Recommendations ultimately boil down to a combination of vaccination and good common sense. Here are five of the most common tips medical professionals are providing to prevent influenza infection this year:
1. Get vaccinated. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that anyone age six months or older who has not yet received a flu shot this season should get one right away. The vaccine takes one to two weeks to become fully effective, so experts advise the sooner the better. At least 35 states across the nation are now reporting widespread flu activity and at least 12 others are reporting regional activity. The overwhelming majority of confirmed influenza cases this year stem from the H1N1 virus, against which this year’s vaccine provides adequate protection.
2. Stay away from sick people, and stay away from healthy people if you are sick. This tip falls under the genre of common sense, but many still struggle to comply. Influenza is most commonly spread through contact with droplets of virus-containing material expelled when a person with the virus coughs or sneezes. To avoid further dissemination of the disease, it is recommended that anyone experiencing flu-like symptoms avoid returning to school or work for at least 24 hours following the complete absence of fever. Those who are sick should also take particular care to cover their noses and mouths with a hand or a tissue as they sneeze or cough.
3. Wash your hands. Everyone, everywhere should take special care to wash their hands after any contact with others or time spent in public places during flu season. Washing with soap and water is preferable, but if soap and water is not available, the use of a liquid hand sanitizer is advised.
4. Regularly disinfect surfaces prone to the collection of contaminating germs. Doorknobs, faucets and telephones are among those most likely to result in exposure and should be regularly sprayed or wiped down with some type of germ-killing disinfectant.
5. If you have been prescribed antiviral medication for the treatment of influenza, take them exactly as instructed by your doctor. Proper treatment with these drugs can potentially result in more mild symptoms of influenza and also shorten the length of the time of illness. This means less time to spread the disease to others as well. For those at particularly high risk of developing complications, treatment with antiviral drugs can also lessen the risk of hospitalization.
As influenza season is in full force around the nation, its deadly potential should not be underestimated. It has already resulted in more than 2,600 hospitalizations and dozens of deaths, including the deaths of ten children. While hospitalizations and complications related to influenza are typically seen most commonly in those over the age of 65 or those under the age of 5, this year most of the hospitalizations have occurred among adults between the ages of 18 and 64. This pattern of younger people becoming severely ill from influenza is similar to that which occurred during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic.
Vaccination and common sense are indeed the key for those of all ages to avoid influenza this season, following the five tips included here may go a long way toward preventing further spread of the disease.
By Michele Wessel