Preparing for flu season
Influenza (the flu) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It spreads from person-to-person and can cause mild to severe illness; and in some cases, can lead to death.
While there is no cure for the flu, experts from Charlotte and Peace River Regional Medical Centers offer some tips that you and your family can take to better prepare for this flu season.
In the United States, yearly outbreaks of seasonal flu usually happen during the fall through early spring. Symptoms can include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body or muscle aches, headache, fatigue, vomiting and diarrhea.
"A person with the flu is contagious one day before symptoms appear and 5-7 days after symptoms appear, or even longer, depending on a person's immune system," said Marty Cunningham, infection prevention coordinator at Peace River Regional Medical Center, Port Charlotte.
Spread by droplets from a person with the flu to another through coughs, sneezes or common surfaces, the flu varies in severity from season to season and person to person. "It's always best to avoid contact with people who have the seasonal or flu. But when that's impossible, one of the best ways to reduce your chances of contracting either the seasonal flu or the H1N1 flu is to frequently wash your hands," added Cunningham.
Proper hand washing includes wetting your hands with warm water and lathering with soap. Rub your hands together for 15 to 20 seconds -- a good way to remember is to silently sing "Happy Birthday" to yourself twice. Alcohol hand rubs are also convenient and effective against the flu virus.
"And if you have someone in your house who is ill with a cold or the flu, use sanitizing wipes to clean surfaces, such as toys, counter tops, telephones and other objects may help," said Rebecca Malphus, infection prevention nurse at Charlotte Regional Medical Center, Punta Gorda.
The best way to prevent the flu is by getting a flu vaccination each year. Recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for everyone six months of age and older, the 2012-2013 seasonal influenza vaccine protects against the three flu viruses expected to cause the most illness in the U.S.
This season the vaccine is trivalent and contains A/California/7/2009 (H1N1) pdmo9-like virus; A/Victoria/361/2011 (H3N2)-like virus; and thirdly, B/Wisconsin/1/2010-like virus (from the B/Yamagata linage of viruses). It is recommended that you receive the current vaccine each flu season.
"People do not need more than one vaccine. The only exception is young children, age six months to 8 years old, who have never had the vaccine before; for them to build an immunity, two doses spaced four weeks apart is recommended," said Malphus.
Both Cunningham and Malphus recommend that vaccines begin in September, or as soon as the seasonal vaccine becomes available. "Flu season can begin as early as October and last until May," said Cunningham. "Usually, seasonal flu activity peaks in January or later, so everyone over six months of age should get their seasonal flu vaccination now."
Those interested in getting the vaccine should check with your local medical health providers or visit www.peaceriverregional.com or www.charlotteregional.com and click on the "Influenza Vaccine CCHD" Quick Link.
For more information about influenza, check out the Center for Disease Control and Prevention at www.cdc.gov/flu.