October until April is typically known as flu season. Formally called influenza, the flu is a respiratory illness caused by viruses that infect the nose, throat and lungs.
While each flu season can be different, the preventive measures and treatments for flu are tried and true year after year.
Get a flu shot!
You’ve likely heard that the best way to prevent the flu is via vaccination, but you’ve probably also heard that it’s not always effective. Both are true…sort of. While you could still get the flu if you’ve been vaccinated, a flu shot will make the flu less severe.
The flu shot is developed each year based on the types of influenza researchers think will be the most prominent. The vaccine is not 100% effective, because researchers can only rely on educated guesses. How well the vaccine works varies from season to season, but regardless, getting a vaccine can only help you.
Contrary to popular belief, the flu shot does NOT cause the flu. Infection Control practitioner Dave Martin, RN, says, “Some people may experience body aches after receiving a flu shot, but that is a completely normal response.”
Infection control is key at all times
The best way to prevent the spread of germs? Wash your hands! The correct way to wash is to wet your hands from the wrist down, holding your hands down so germs don’t run up your arms. Use a good amount of soap and lather your hands, including each finger and between them, for approximately 30 seconds. Rinse your hands, keep the water running, and without touching the dispenser, dry your hands using a paper towel. Throw away the wet towel and use a new, clean towel to turn off the water. If you are unable to use soap and water, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer is another option.
“You should always practice respiratory etiquette,” says Sara McNeil, RN, from our Infection Control team. “Cough into your sleeve or a tissue, not your hand.”
People should also be mindful to not touch their eyes, nose and mouth, especially if you haven’t washed your hands.
If you think you have the flu…
Flu symptoms will come on strong and quick. You’ll experience body aches, fever, chills, malaise and respiratory symptoms. The flu does not typically have any gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea, vomiting or diarrhea.
See a medical professional
If you experience these symptoms, the best thing you can do is hunker down with plenty of fluids and get rest. You can call your primary care provider, who can prescribe Tamiflu within the first 24-48 hours of a flu diagnosis. However, Tamiflu can only help with symptoms and does not prevent the spread of the flu virus.
If your symptoms are severe or you have an existing or underlying medical issue, you should visit the Crouse Emergency Room.
Prevent the spread of the flu
Up to 20% of Americans will come down with the flu. If you fall into that percentage, help to contain your illness by staying home and getting rest — do not go to school or work, or anywhere in a public place to help prevent the spread of the virus.
Clean and disinfect the surfaces in your home to protect your family and practice respiratory etiquette. Most importantly, try to avoid being around others until you’ve been without a fever for at least 24 hours.
Visiting a hospital during flu season
In the Pomeroy Emergency Services Department at Crouse Health, patients (or visitors) who present with any flu-like symptoms are asked to wear a mask to prevent the spread of germs. During flu season, we have masks for patients and visitors throughout the hospital to wear if they have any signs or symptoms of the flu.
Above all, we ask that if you’re not feeling well, please refrain from visiting friends or family in the hospital. This is for the safety of all of our patients and our community.
It’s not too late to get a flu shot to protect yourself this flu season. Go to your primary care physician or use the CDC Vaccine Finder to locate where you can receive a flu shot. Let’s all do our part to prevent the spread of the flu.
Laurie Clark is the Communications and Digital Media Coordinator at Crouse Health.