In the United States, there has been a huge increase in cases of the flu with activity being reported in 49 states. The flu vaccine is the most important thing you can do to prevent influenza, and antiviral drugs are the best way to treat influenza infections. Early treatment with a flu antiviral drug can actually shorten the duration of fever and illness symptoms, and can reduce the risk of serious flu complications. For those individuals with an age or medical factor that puts them at high-risk of complications, prompt treatment with a flu antiviral drug can mean the difference between having a mild case of the illness and a stay in the hospital, or even death.
Getting the flu vaccine to prevent future cases of influenza is still a good idea, despite it not being as effective this year as it has been in the past. Experts are predicting weeks of flu activity yet to come so vaccination can still offer important protection. While influenza A (H3N2) viruses have been most common, it is not unusual for different flu viruses to circulate at different times of the season and most flu vaccines protect against four different influenza viruses. Here are the best ways to protect your family from the flu!
1. Take flu antiviral drugs if your doctor prescribes them.
People who are at high risk for influenza complications should contact their healthcare provider if they start to experience flu symptoms, even if they have already been vaccinated this season. If you get sick with flu, antiviral drugs are the best way to treat it. The CDC recommends rapid treatment of seriously ill and high-risk flu patients with antiviral drugs. It is very important that antiviral drugs are used early to treat hospitalized patients, people with severe flu illness, and people who are at high risk of serious flu complications based on their age or health.
2. Take every day preventative actions to help prevent the spread of germs.
If you are able, try to avoid close contact with people who are sick. And if you do get sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them. This means taking a sick day or cancelling your weekly yoga class. Be sure to wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 30 seconds. Only use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available as they have been proven to be less effective. Be sure to clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs like flu and avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth because germs spread this way. ALWAYS cover mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Not only does it prevent the spread of germs, it is also just good manners.
3. If you have not gotten a flu vaccine yet this season, get vaccinated now – it’s not too late!
We don’t mean to keep harping on this, but it really is the best way to avoid getting the flu. As long as the flu virus is circulating (in some areas until May), vaccination should continue throughout flu season. Anyone who is 6 months of age or older is recommended to get vaccinated against flu every year, with rare exceptions. Keep in mind that the flu vaccine is used to prevent flu illness, not treat it. Flu vaccines typically protect against three or four different flu viruses and take up to two weeks after vaccination for the immune system to fully respond and for these antibodies to provide protection. With many more weeks of flu activity expected for this flu season, there is still time to get vaccinated if you haven’t already done so.
If you are a parent or caregiver keep in mind that some children 6 months through 8 years of age will require two doses of flu vaccine for protection from flu. Children who are in this age group will get these doses spaced at least 28 days apart. CDC typically conducts studies throughout the influenza season to help determine how well flu vaccines are working. While vaccine effectiveness can vary, recent studies by CDC researchers indicate that flu vaccination reduces the risk of influenza illness by 30% to 60% among the overall population.
Everyone is at risk for getting flu regardless of age or medical history. In the US alone, millions of people get the flu, hundreds of thousands are hospitalized, and thousands to tens of thousands of people die from flu every year. The CDC estimates that influenza has resulted in between 9.2 million and 35.6 million illnesses, between 140,000 and 710,000 hospitalizations, and between 12,000 and 56,000 deaths annually since 2010.
Some people are at higher risk of developing serious complications as a result of the flu such as pneumonia or worsening of existing chronic health conditions. It’s important for those people to check with a doctor promptly about taking antivirals if they develop flu symptoms. Some of the people at high risk include the following:
- Children younger than 5, but especially children younger than 2 years old
- People 65 years and older
- Pregnant women (and women up to two weeks postpartum)
- Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities