We are at the peak of the flu season – and, based on information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, high flu activity is likely to continue for several weeks. So what can you do to minimize the damage of the flu to you and your environment? Quite a few things:
• Don’t work if you are sick. Many people who are catching the flu are of school-going or working age, 5 to 65, and it appears to be the H1N1 strain we saw in 2009, which affected a similar population at that time. Thus, if you are sick, avoid spreading the flu by not going to school or work while you have a temperature, and wait 24 hours after your temperature breaks before going back. Contact your doctor if you have high fevers or shortness of breath.
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• Get the flu shot if you haven’t gotten it yet. CDC recommends that providers continue to provide flu vaccinations throughout the flu season, which can last as late as May.
• If you do get the flu, ask your doctor for antiviral drugs. These medications now have been shown to work if started up to five days after the flu starts, and appear to reduce the severity and duration of the flu, as well as reduce viral shedding. The antiviral drugs can be taken whether you received the flu shot or not.
• Make sure that you get the flu shot if you are pregnant. This Influenza A H1N1 in 2009 was particularly hard on pregnant women, who were four times more likely to be hospitalized from flu than non-pregnant women that year.
• Expect the flu season to last until at least the end of March. A CDC report notices that peak weeks of flu activity have occurred in January through March during 90 percent of the past 20 seasons.
• The flu shot does help. Even though some people who received the flu shot are getting the flu, overall statistics do show a 17 percent reduction in hospitalizations last year attributed to the flu shot.
• A surprising risk factor for this flu season is obesity – similar to that seen in 2009. This season there has been more hospitalization among obese adults. As of this week, obese people have made up 45 percent of adult hospitalizations – yet another reason to have a long-term plan to bring your weight to normal if it is not.
Other people at high risk for serious flu complications, who should strongly consider a flu shot if they haven’t gotten one yet, include those with underlying medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease and neurological conditions; pregnant women; those younger than 5 years or older than 65 years of age; and anyone with a weakened immune system.