By Courtney Mull, MD
This flu season is making local and national headlines as the number of cases continues to rise. In fact, we are in the midst of the flu epidemic, with a high likelihood that it has not yet peaked. At Mission Health’s hospitals alone, nearly 250 patients were seen with confirmed cases of the flu in the first two weeks of this year.
So, how do you protect yourself and your family? Follow these keys to prevention:
- Get your flu shot – The absolute best way to prevent the flu is to get immunized, and it’s not too late. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a yearly flu vaccination for everyone 6 months of age and older. While the vaccine is never 100 percent effective in preventing the flu (and this year is no different than others), it can substantially reduce the effect of the symptoms for those affected. Also, it’s important to know that the flu vaccine cannot transmit the flu and that never previously having the flu is not a reason to opt against the flu vaccine.
- Practice smart hygiene habits – Good health habits, like frequently washing your hands or using alcohol-based hand sanitizers, and covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, can help prevent the spread of flu and other illnesses. Avoid touching your face or mouth with your hands.
- Stay home when you’re sick – Anyone with symptoms of flu should stay home from school, work or other group activities to prevent spreading the illness to others. The symptoms of flu usually start suddenly and most commonly include fever, chills, muscle or body aches, feeling very tired and weak, cough and headache. Stay away from others as much as possible to keep from infecting them. If you must leave home, for example to get medical care, wear a facemask if you have one.
- Seek the appropriate medical care – If you become ill with symptoms of the flu, contact your primary care provider, visit a walk-in care facility such as Mission My Care Now, conduct an online provider visit such as Mission Virtual Clinic or visit a nearby urgent care facility. While the emergency room is always open to those who are ill, most people with the flu do not need to be seen by seen in a hospital’s emergency department. Treatment with antiviral drugs within 48 hours of the start of flu symptoms is especially important as a second line of defense against the flu. The emergency room should be a last resort as it exposes you to other illnesses and exposes others to the flu.
Courtney Mull, MD, is Medical Director, Advanced Access – Mission Health; Mission My Care Now.