If you've ever had the flu, you know how hard it hits. It can wipe you out for days with fever, aches, chills, tiredness, and other miseries. It's bad enough to make you miss several days of work or school.
But for people at high risk, the flu can be even more serious than that. According to the American Lung Association, every year about 226,000 people need hospital care because of problems brought on by the flu. And the latest facts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, tell us that in the flu's worst years, as many as 49,000 people have died.
Who is at greatest risk from the flu?
People at high risk are young children, pregnant women, people with health problems like asthma, diabetes, or heart disease, and people 65 years of age and older.
The Mayo Clinic lists some other health problems that put people at high risk. They are cerebral palsy, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cystic fibrosis, epilepsy, HIV-AIDS, kidney or liver disease, muscular dystrophy, obesity, and sickle-cell disease.
The good news is that there are steps you can take to help protect yourself and those around you from the flu. The CDC offers these important tips.
1. Take the time to get a flu vaccine
The best way to keep from getting the flu is to get your flu vaccine. A vaccine is a medical preparation that helps you fight off an illness by building up your body's defenses against it. You can have the flu any time, but people usually get flu from October through May. In recent seasons, the greatest number of infections has occurred in January and February.
All people six months of age and older should get flu vaccine. Vaccination is especially important for people in high-risk groups such as those with chronic conditions, those who are immune-compromised, and contacts of small children.
Recent studies show that it can be good for just about everyone. And if you are around people who are at high risk, or if you care for babies too young to be vaccinated, getting the vaccine will help make sure you don't pass the flu on to them. As the CDC says, "The flu ends with U."
If you have any questions about whether you should have a flu shot, be sure to talk with your doctor. You shouldn't get it if you have had a bad reaction to the vaccine in the past, are allergic to chicken eggs, or have a fever the day you plan to get the shot.
However, you should know that children 6 months through 8 years of age may need two doses of the flu vaccine with one month in between shots, but not two different types of vaccines.
It takes about two weeks after you get your shot to build your protection from the flu, so get the shot as soon as you can.
Finally, when you get your flu vaccination, be sure to make note of the date. Also, it's a good idea to tell your doctor if you get vaccinated at a health fair or through an employer. It's important to keep your medical records up to date.
2. Take everyday steps to stop the spread of germs
The flu is caused by a germ called the influenza virus. It gets into the body through the mouth, nose, or eyes. And it can spread quickly on tiny drops that get into the air when a person with the flu coughs or sneezes.
The CDC says these steps can help stop the flu from spreading:
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not handy, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
- Try to keep from touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. That could let germs on your hands get into your body.
- Try not to get too close to people who are sick.
- If you have a flu-like illness, stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or other necessary things. Your fever should be gone without the use of medicine that lowers your temperature.
- Stay away from others as much as you can when you are sick.
3. Choose the right kind of care
If you come down with signs of the flu, you should call your doctor right away. Your primary care physician, or PCP, knows your medical history and can help you with treatment. If you can’t see your PCP, think about going to an urgent care or retail clinic. These facilities usually have shorter waits than the emergency room and have qualified doctors. To find an urgent care or retail clinic in your area, use the Physician Finder Plus tool on Humana.com.
If you want to find out more, visit www.cdc.gov/flu/about/qa/flushot.htm or www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/preventing.htm.