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Originally published: 2013-10-31 11:23:38
Last modified: 2013-10-31 11:24:23

Vaccinations top the list for flu prevention

by Sherrie Norris

It should come as no surprise that flu season is upon us. On nearly every street corner in town, there's a sign directing us to a pharmacy or health clinic offering flu shots. According to the Center for Disease Control and the local health department, it's not something to be ignored and should be the first precaution we take to avoid the flu. 

The CDC indicates that flu vaccines are designed to protect against the influenza viruses that experts predict will be the most common during the upcoming season. And, that even with many different flu viruses, the flu vaccine is designed to protect against the three main flu strains that research indicates will cause the most illness during flu season; they are: Influenza A (H1N1), influenza A (H3N2) and influenza B viruses.

However, flu virus change constantly, and it's not unusual for new virus strains to appear each year.

While some flu activity has already been reported across the state, the timing of flu is unpredictable and can vary from year to year. With peaks occurring most often in January or February, flu season can begin as early as October and continue into late spring.

Although flu epidemics are reported each year, the type of flu, as well as the timing, severity, and length of the season varies.


What can you do?

The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months of age and older receive a flu vaccination as soon as it becomes available each year. The protection from the vaccination will last throughout the flu season.

Manufacturers have projected that they will produce between 135 million and 139 million doses of influenza vaccine for use in the United States during the 2013-2014 influenza season.


Steps to Beat the Flu

Jennifer Greene, director of Allied Health Services at Appalachian District Health Department in Boone, said that influenza can be serious enough to lead to death. 

"Even healthy people can get very sick from the flu and spread it to others," she said. "Flu not only costs lives every year, but it costs time from school, work, church, or other activities."

The "good news," Greene said, is that we can take five simple steps to help protect us and those we love from flu this year. 


Step 1: Get your flu vaccine now. 

"This is the most important step to beat the flu, so pay attention," she said.  "Protection against the flu develops over about a two-week period after you receive your vaccine, so if you get vaccinated by Halloween, you'll be protected prior to the usual holiday rush that begins in Thanksgiving."

It's especially important for parents to know this information," she said. "Think about making it a family event. Be a role model by getting your vaccine too, and incorporate a fun activity after you do it together." The other important part about the tip, Greene said, is to do it now. "Flu season will continue and flu activity has been confirmed in the region. Early protection now is important."
Greene pointed out that flu vaccines are widely available at many locations, including the local health department office, where you can drop in during normal business hours without an appointment. "Children who are uninsured can receive free state-supplied vaccine at the health department and flu vaccines are covered by most insurance plans," she said.


Step 2:  Be a role model by covering your nose and mouth

Remember the technique used to cough into your elbow rather than your hands? That's the one you want to show your friends, family members, and coworkers, Greene said. "If we all make that a standard, we'll likely protect ourselves more from germs." 


Step 3: Watch out for your hands, eyes, nose and mouth

"Germs spread -- and through our normal activities," Greene said. "We will come in contact with many of them through common surfaces that are touched by others like door handles, shopping carts, or desks. We all touch these things, so remember to avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth after opening the door or before you eat, until after you've washed your hands."

Not only will frequent hand washing help protect you from the flu, Greene said, but also other germs like viruses that give you a dreaded cold. Washing frequently and using alcohol-based hand sanitizer products when soap and water are not available to you are important.  "If you have small children, teaching them to sing a song while washing their hands will help too, or if you're just thinking about yourself, think about repeating a positive statement to yourself three times while washing your hands," she said. "This might help boost your spirit along with your protection from germs."


Step 4: Get plenty of rest now, and if you do get sick, stay at home. 

This is a common piece of advice, Greene said, but getting plenty of rest helps your body and your immune system tremendously. "Establish a routine and set a bedtime," she added. "If you're a parent, establish a routine and bedtime for your child, whether he or she is a toddler or teenager, to help them stay healthier and be ready to learn the next day." 

If you do get sick, especially if you have a fever, stay at home. "Staying home when you're sick is important not only for you, but for others too," Greene said. "What happens when you drag into work when you are sick? You spread your germs to others, and thus, the cycle repeats."Greene advises employers or supervisors to encourage their staff to practice these tips, especially getting vaccinated. "If your employee does get sick, help avoid the spread by encouraging him or her to go home or seek early medical treatment if they suspect the flu." 


Step 5: Review the previous steps and make a plan. 

Greene said if this were a game we were playing, we would want to win, right?  "Of course you would, except this time, it is not a game. It is your health and your life. So, review the steps above and make an action plan. This plan should include step No. 1 first, since it is the most important to do right away."

Finally, Greene said, flu symptoms include fever, sore throat, chills, body aches, runny or stuffy nose, and fatigue. "If you suspect you, or someone you care for has the flu, seek medical treatment early. If it is the flu, early treatment can help you get better sooner or lessen your symptoms." 

The staff at Appalachian District Health Department will be glad to serve you during normal business hours 8 a.m. - 4:45 p.m. without an appointment. 

For more information about the flu, call the health department at (828) 264-6635, visit 126 Poplar Grove Connector in Boone, online at http://www.apphealth.com, or find the department's Facebook page for up-to-date flu news.