How to Prevent the Flu This Year
It's official: the flu is considered "widespread" for 2020. The typical flu season spans from September to May, with a peak in the middle of winter. Lehigh Valley Live recently reported 25,632 confirmed flu cases in 66 of the Pennsylvania's 67 counties through January 4, resulting in 13 deaths and 477 hospitalizations so far. Lehigh Valley Health Network’s Director of Infection Control and Prevention, Terry Burger, RN, has the insights you need to stay well during flu season, plus what to do if you get sick.
How to Prevent the Flu
While Benjamin Franklin’s quote, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” wasn’t about health, the saying resonates as a flu prevention message. Influenza is a prevalent and deadly illness—last year 80,000 Americans died from the flu. But there are several simple ways you can help prevent the spread of influenza and stay well:
Should You Get the Flu Shot?
Even in years when the vaccine is not an exact match for the circulating influenza viruses, getting a flu shot is your best defense. “There is lots of evidence-based research that shows vaccination decreases hospital visits, decreases hospitalizations, decreases lost workdays, lost time at school, and it is your number one best method for protecting yourself and your family,” Burger says.
Everyone ages 6 months and older should get a flu shot each year. The only people who should not are those with underlying contraindications – talk with your health care provider to understand if you have any reasons to not get a flu shot.
Be Careful What You Touch
Frequent hand washing can help remove viruses and other microbes from your skin. Alcohol-based hand cleansers can be used when you can’t wash your hands.
Remember to avoid touching your face after touching surfaces that others have touched like: door knobs, cabinet handles, telephones, faucet handles, microwave or fridge handles, remote controls, shopping cart push handle, etc.
Also, clean surfaces to help remove viruses. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says common cleaners, including soap, chlorine bleach or hydrogen peroxide, can kill the flu virus on surfaces.
How to Keep Your Flu from Spreading to Others
If you happen to get sick with flu, Burger says there are things you can do to NOT spread your illness to others:
- Do not go to work, school, the mall, grocery store, the movies, place of worship, etc.
- Sneeze into a tissue or the crook of your elbow
- Cough into a tissue or the crook of your elbow
- Toss used tissues into the trash. (Reminder: If you happen to clean up someone else’s used tissue, wash your hands thoroughly.)
Flu symptoms come on suddenly and include fever, body aches, chills, tiredness, cough and headache, and for some people sneezing, stuffy nose and sore throat. The CDC says cold symptoms are milder than flu symptoms. If you go to the doctor and are diagnosed with influenza, you may be treated with antiviral medication.
If your symptoms seem severe, you may need help at the ER, says Burger. “Go to the hospital if you have shortness of breath, if you have a prolonged illness that doesn’t seem to be getting better, or if you are feeling chest pain,” she says.
Here's a Major Flu Myth
One myth Burger says you need to know the truth about is this: You cannot get sick from the flu shot. “It’s an inactivated vaccine. You absolutely cannot get the flu from the flu shot,” she says.
As we move into a time of year when flu becomes more widespread, make time to get your flu shot. “Flu shots save lives,” Burger says. “You will not only protect yourself but will help reduce the risk of spreading the flu to the people you love.”
Flu Shots Made Easy
- Did you know that you can go to any of our 20 ExpressCARE locations to get your flu shot? They are open 7 days a week, 365 days a year, and no appointment is necessary.
- You can also visit your primary care provider (PCP) to get your flu shot. If you don't have a PCP, find one here. Or call 888-402-LVHN(5846).
- If you find yourself taken ill with the flu, we know how difficult it can be to go to the doctor. If you don't feel up to leaving the house, schedule a Video Visit with an LVHN provider from the comfort of your own home.