12 Days of Holiday Safety: Flu Prevention and Treatment
The holidays may be the happiest time of the year for some people, but they also happen to be the germiest time of year for almost everyone.
It just so happens that flu season, unfortunately, coincides with the time of year where people are out in masses, shopping for gifts, celebrating with loved ones and enjoying the magic of the Christmas season. Of course, with the rush of the holiday season also comes stress and anxiety which leave our bodies vulnerable to the flu virus.
The contagious nature of this virus makes flu prevention a crucial concept.
In order to protect ourselves from this illness that kills 36,000 people a year, according to the Center for Disease Control, first, we must understand what it is.
What is the flu?
Influenza (flu) is a contagious respiratory illness that ranges in severity. The flu virus infects the nose, throat and sometimes the lungs. The illness is spread to others through contact, and experts believe it can spread up to six feet away. Most doctors believe that the flu virus is spread by droplets made when infected people cough, sneeze or talk.
It’s rare, but a person may also become infected by touching a surface or object that has the flu virus on it.
The flu is contagious
Most healthy adults can infect others as early as 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 5 to 7 days after becoming sick. Symptoms only begin to reveal themselves 1 to 4 days after the virus enters the body, which means you can pass on the flu to someone else before you even realize you are sick, as well as while you are sick. Some people can even be infected with the flu virus but have no symptoms, making it impossible to know if the virus is being spread.
Each person is unique, and so is their immune system, which is why symptoms can vary from person to person, but they often include:
Stuffed up nose
Can the flu be treated?
The answer is yes! *insert sigh of relief* Antiviral medication is used to treat the flu. Antiviral drugs are different from antibiotics, as they are prescribed medicines and are not available over the counter. These drugs can make the illness milder and shorten the time you are sick. It is important that if using antiviral drugs to treat the flu virus, you use it early enough. Studies show that flu antiviral drugs work best for treatments when they are started within 2 days of getting sick.
High-risk sufferers: Nursing home patients
Although influenza affects persons of all ages, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified several groups who are at increased risk for complications. One such group is residents of nursing homes or other long-term care facilities. During influenza epidemics, mortality rates among nursing home residents often exceed 5 percent. To lessen the impact of this infection, the influenza vaccine is recommended as the primary way of preventing the illness and its complications. Many studies have shown that vaccination of nursing home residents and staff can significantly decrease rates of hospitalization, pneumonia, and related mortality.
It is vitally important that staff members are also vaccinated against the virus, as higher vaccination levels among personnel have been associated with a lower risk of nursing home facility flu outbreaks.
Even when it’s not flu season, nursing home facilities should be testing residents with signs and symptoms that may be caused by the flu.
The cost of the flu
In 2012, Americans missed more than 70 million workdays because of the flu, which costs $7 billion a year in sick days and lost productivity to employers, and its not only employers who lose money when it comes to the flu. If you have insurance, expect to pay out around $130 for your flu by the time you add up a doctors visit, prescription drugs and over-the-counter. No insurance? Expect to pay around $100 just for medicine alone.
The CDC urges Americans to take 3 vital steps to take action against the flu virus:
1. Take time to get the flu vaccine: While there are many different flu viruses, a flu vaccine protects against the viruses that research suggests will be most common. Everyone 6 months of age and older should get a flu vaccine every year before flu activity begins in their community. Vaccination also is important for healthcare workers, and other people who live with or care for high-risk people to keep from spreading flu to them.
2. Take everyday preventative actions to stop the spread of germs: While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them. While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. Germs spread this way. Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs like the flu.
3. Take flu antiviral drugs if your doctor prescribes them: Antiviral drugs can make illness milder and shorten the time you are sick. They may also prevent serious flu complications. For people with high-risk factors, treatment with an antiviral drug can mean the difference between having a milder illness versus a very serious illness that could result in a hospital stay.
- Written by Jill Fowler