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Time to start taking precautions with flu season around the corner

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Posted: Monday, October 14, 2013 12:00 am

FAIRBANKS — Flu season is just around the corner, so it’s time to start thinking about protecting yourself! In Fairbanks, flu season begins in October and tapers off toward the end of March.  

About 36,000 people per year are hospitalized in the United States due to complications from the flu, such as pneumonia.

The symptoms of influenza can vary from mild to severe. The most common symptoms are fever, headache, extreme tiredness, dry cough, sore throat, stuffy and runny nose and muscles aches. Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea can also occur, but are most common in children.

The flu is typically spread through droplets generated from your coughs and sneezes, and you should be aware that you can spread the flu from one day before developing symptoms and up to 5 to 7 days after becoming sick.

Flu can be a serious disease, especially to the very young, the elderly, those with chronic diseases such as chronic lung disease and asthma, and those with weakened immune systems, heart disease, kidney and liver disorders, and those who are pregnant.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the flu shot for anyone 6 months and older.  Flu vaccines are available this time of year and can be obtained in a number of ways, including many pharmacies or your own health care providers.  

The vaccine is available by nasal spray to those that are healthy, between the ages of 2 to 49, and who are not pregnant. This year, for the first time, there will be an “egg-free” vaccine for those who were not able to receive the vaccine in the past due to an egg allergy.  

It is recommended that you get the flu vaccine if you are eligible to protect those younger than

6 months who cannot receive the vaccine.  

Many wonder why it’s necessary to get the flu vaccine every year.  The answer is simple: your immunity to the flu declines in time, so a yearly vaccine is recommended.  Also, the flu vaccine is updated every year to contain the most common circulating viruses, and may contain different viruses than the previous year.

Side effects from the flu vaccine are usually mild and only last a few days. They can include soreness, redness and swelling at the site of the flu shot.  

Occasionally, you may have a mild fever and mild muscle aches. It takes about two weeks for the immunity/antibodies to the flu to develop after receiving the vaccine.

People often ask if you can get the flu from the vaccine — and the answer is no, you cannot get the flu from the vaccine. The virus in the vaccine is actually killed during the production of the shot and weakened enough in the nasal spray vaccine so it will not cause the flu but still allow the body to recognize it as a virus and develop the needed antibodies to protect one from illness.

There are antiviral medications that can treat the flu. They come in the form of liquid, pills or inhaled powder, and  are available by prescription only.

Antiviral medicine can lessen the symptoms of the flu and decrease the time you are sick by 1 to 2 days.  Antivirals can help prevent serious flu complications such as pneumonia.  

If you think you have the flu, you should contact your health care provider sooner rather than later, because antivirals are most effective if they can be started within the first two days of feeling ill.

Stop spread of germs

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the following preventative actions to help stop the spread of germs that cause the flu:

• Get your flu vaccine yearly.

• Avoid contact with sick people.

• If you are sick with flu-like symptoms stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone without the use of fever reducers such as Tylenol and Motrin/Advil.

• Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough and sneeze.

• Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use an alcohol-based hand rub.

• Avoid touching your nose, mouth or eyes. Flu germs can be spread by contact with the mucous membranes in these areas.

• Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs like the flu.

• Contact your health care provider early if you think you have the flu — your provider may want to prescribe the antivirals mentioned earlier that can shorten the days you are sick and make the illness milder.

Helen Lazeration, R.N, B.S.N is an Infection Preventionist at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital.

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