It is anticipated that this year’s flu season will become even more severe as the holiday season progresses. In fact, flu hospitalizations have increased nearly 30% and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 6.2 million have already caught the flu, while 53,000 have been hospitalized. While this may seem alarming, there are several ways you can help lower the risk of becoming seriously ill in the months ahead.
What is Flu Season?
Flu season is the time of year, typically between October and May, that catching the influenza virus is more likely. During these months, you have a higher chance of coming into contact with the infection, whether it’s at work, with loved ones, or from contaminated surfaces. If you’re vulnerable or haven’t taken any precautions, this can lead to a more severe case of the flu.
Why is it expected to increase?
During the holiday season, it is common to have more close interactions with others. Sharing food, having people at your home, and physical contact all increase the risk of transmitting the flu unintentionally. This year, some gatherings are happening sooner than usual, leading to a spike in cases earlier than normally expected.
Cold weather can also have an impact on flu transmission. Sometimes the cold can weaken the immune system and help viruses stay alive longer on surfaces. The dry air during the fall and winter may also contribute to dryness in the nose and throat, which can help viruses enter the body more easily.
What are flu symptoms?
Typical flu symptoms include fever, body aches, chills, fatigue, coughing, a sore throat, and headaches. You may also experience gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, which may lead to dehydration.
Tips from the CDC
The CDC recommends that you avoid close contact with others when possible, especially with anyone who is sick. If you are sick, try not to go out to avoid possible transmission. If you need to cough or sneeze, cover your mouth and nose to avoid spreading droplets.
You also need to frequently wash your hands and avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth, to help prevent germs from more easily entering the body. If you’re living or working with someone ill, disinfect surfaces often. Lastly, don’t neglect your general health. Eat well, drink a lot of water, manage stress, sleep well, and exercise.
If you’re concerned about infection at schools, check if any outbreaks have been reported and how their school plans to prevent outbreaks. You may also look into the absentee policy of sick students in case of emergency.
Work is also another hot spot for the flu. Find out if your job offers vaccines and what their policy is for outbreaks. Routinely clean surfaces and keep disinfectants and sanitizers on-hand for frequent use. If you begin to feel ill, go home as soon as you can, and keep in mind who you will ask to be your replacement if needed.
Tips from WebMD
WebMD recommends that anyone over 6 months of age get a flu shot, depending on the health condition of the patient, like pregnancy, chronic conditions, or allergies. However, the shot is generally regarded as safe for most healthy individuals and can lessen the flu risk by 40-60% and decrease the most severe symptoms.
Children (especially under the age of two), older adults, pregnant women, health care workers, and anyone with a chronic medical condition is at higher risk for getting the flu and complications. If you fall under this category, ask your doctor about getting the vaccine.
Treatments for the flu consist of antiviral drugs, which help reduce symptoms and shorten the duration of the illness. The sooner you start treatment, the more effective it is, so contact your doctor as soon as you feel ill.
Tips from the AHA
According to the American Heart Association, people over the age of 65 have a higher risk of having flu complications. Between 70-85% of seasonal flu deaths occur in this age range. Young children are also at risk due to their newly developing immune systems. If your child is over 6 months of age, ask your doctor if the flu vaccine is right for them.
Experts recommend only one dose between September and October if possible. However, it’s not too late after October, later vaccination can still give protection during the remainder of the flu season.
Tips from the AAP
The American Academy of Pediatrics advises that children over 6 months get vaccinated against the flu each year. Your pediatrician will help you determine which type of vaccine is appropriate based on your child’s age and health status.
Flu vaccines can also be administered alongside other live and inactivated vaccines like the COVID-19 vaccine, depending on your child’s health. Sometimes full vaccination in one health visit can help reduce your trip to the doctor and lower the exposure to germs for you and your family.