ABC News’ Dr. Richard Besser reports:
It’s coming. I can feel it in the air. On the subway every time someone coughs, I look up then see if I can move a little further away. As I exit the train, I immediately reach for the hand sanitizer in my pocket to kill any of the nasty bugs on my hands that were moments ago clinging to the railings. Flu season is here, and I take it seriously.
So what’s the big deal about the flu? It’s just the flu, right?
If you’re young and healthy, most likely you will just feel lousy for a week or two, miss some work, and spread the infection to some of your favorite people. If you’re elderly, have medical problems, are pregnant, or are a young child, you may not be so lucky. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each year more than 200,000 people are hospitalized due to influenza. Depending on the year, between 3,000 and 49,000 people die.
The best way to prevent the flu is to get vaccinated.
You may have heard about a new study on flu vaccines. It found that the flu vaccine doesn’t work as well as we thought or would like. However, it still offers considerable protection. In adults ages 18-65 the benefits of the flu shot vary year by year, but on average the vaccine is 59 percent protective. For children the story is better. For those younger than 7 the nasal spray vaccine is 83 percent protective. Clearly, we need better vaccines but it’s still a really good idea to get vaccinated.
Okay, there are a couple of myths to bust:
1. Can the flu shot give me the flu?
No. You may have a sore arm or a little fever, but the shot does not contain a live virus and cannot give you the flu.
2. If I got the flu shot last year, do I need it this year?
Yes. It isn’t clear how long protection lasts and most years the vaccine protects against different strains of flu than the year before.
How do you know if you have the flu or just a bad cold? Flu symptoms usually come on suddenly and frequently and include high fever, headache, fatigue, cough, sore throat, and body aches. Some people, particularly children, may have diarrhea and vomiting. If you have these symptoms, do not come to work. The last thing you really want to do is infect others.
Finally, here is some advice for what to do if you get the flu.
• If you have underlying medical problems, call your doctor early in the illness to see if they want to prescribe an antiviral drug. • Stay home until your fever has been gone for at least 24 hours. That will cut down on the number of people you give this to. • Cover your coughs and sneezes. • Keep your hands clean. Use soap and water or hand sanitizer frequently, especially after coughing or sneezing. • Drink plenty of liquids.
My big advice to you is this: The best approach to the flu is to not get it and not share it. Get vaccinated. Stay home if you’re sick.
Best wishes for a happy flu season!
For more information on the flu visit http://www.cdc.gov/flu