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Simple Steps Can Prevent Flu

By Connie Bobik

November 1, 2012 - Change is in the air — cool mornings, crisp days, low humidity. Fall is a beautiful time of year in Florida, but with it comes flu season.

Typically, 5 percent to 20 percent of U.S. residents will get the flu and about 200,000 will be hospitalized with flu-related complications.

Now is the time to prepare so you don’t become one of those statistics.

One way is to get the flu vaccine, which is readily available. Signs reading “Flu shots here” are up all over, so take advantage of the opportunity.

The Centers for Disease Control recommends that vaccinations begin as soon as vaccines become available to ensure as many people as possible are protected before flu season starts.

That’s because it takes about two weeks for antibodies to develop and provide protection against the virus.

This year’s vaccine targets three influenza viruses — seasonal influenza A(H3N2), influenza B and H1N1, which caused the 2009 flu pandemic.

However, the flu shot will not protect you from other flu strains that may be present in the environment.

This is important because some people say “I got the flu shot last year and still got the flu so I’m not going to get it this year.”

It’s critical to get the vaccine every year even if you were vaccinated the season before and the viruses in the vaccine have not changed.

According to age, the percentage of people who had an influenza vaccination during 2011 follows:

  • 65 and over, 67 percent
  • 50–64, 42.7 percent
  • 18–49 , 27.2 percent
  • 6 months–17 years, 45.3 percent.

Flu symptoms can be mild or severe and occur suddenly. They include unexplained chills and aches, fever, cough and fatigue. They generally appear one to four days after exposure to the virus and can last up to two weeks, with the average affliction three to seven days. However, a person is contagious one day before and five to 10 days after symptoms appear. So if you do get the flu, stay home.

Here’s something else to remember: Flu can lead to bacterial pneumonia and worsening of chronic health conditions.

The vaccine is not the only way to reduce the risk of flu. You should:

  • Wash your hands with warm water and soap frequently and thoroughly for 20 seconds.
  • Use antibacterial wipes to clean work areas, phones, grocery cart handles and toys.
  • Carry antibacterial hand sanitizer for use when washing your hands is not feasible, such as after using ATMs.
  • Stay away from people with colds and flu  like symptoms.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unclean hands.
  • Get adequate sleep, manage stress, stay hydrated and eat healthy.

In sum, by getting the vaccine and practicing the safety tips, you and your family will be better prepared to enjoy the upcoming holiday season flu-free.

Connie Bobik is an associate professor of nursing at Brevard Community College.