It comes around this time every year, and often throws a wrench into people’s plans. The holidays? College midterms? Nope—flu season. The flu is the type of virus that can be unpredictable in terms of how it affects its victims—symptoms can be mild or severe, and can include fever, coughing, sneezing, fatigue, chills, body aches, headaches and, in more serious cases, vomiting and diarrhea.
The good news is that there are plenty of precautions one can exercise to keep their year flu-free. The New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) encourages everyone to follow these tips for flu prevention.
The Sink Is Your Best Friend
It sounds obvious, even silly, but nonetheless, it’s all too easy to take for granted—washing your hands is a must. A quick rinse under cold water won’t suffice against harmful bacteria. The NYSDOH advises that a thorough wash of at least 20 seconds, under hot water and with plenty of soap, is the safest bet. It’s also best to carry alcohol-based hand sanitizer for when soap and water isn’t readily available. The NYSDOH recommends products that contain at least 60 percent alcohol.
Mind Your Manners, And Your Germs
There’s a reason “spreading like the flu” is such a widely used expression. By practicing improper hygiene, the virus can be passed from person to person at a rapid pace. Last year, there were 12,912 flu-related hospitalizations and eight pediatric flu deaths in New York State alone. A big part of keeping the flu contained is stopping the spread of germs, which is why the NYSDOH reminds everyone to cover all sneezes and coughs with a tissue. Not only is it the polite thing to do, it’s the safe thing to do.
Get The Shot
It pinches for a few seconds, but a flu shot can spare us from several days of discomfort. The department identifies adults aged 65 and older, people with certain chronic medical conditions, young children and pregnant women as holding the highest risk for serious flu complications, which can result in hospitalization and even death.
The flu shot is especially recommended for anyone older than six months of age who’s deemed high-risk, but as NYSDOH Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker points out, even those who aren’t considered highly susceptible would be wise to get vaccinated.
“The single best way to protect against the influenza virus is to get a flu shot every year,” said Zucker. “Getting vaccinated even when you’re not at high-risk will protect family and friends.”
Be Mindful Of Age
Unfortunately, when it comes to the flu, age isn’t just a number, as New York State Office for the Aging Acting Director Greg Olsen explains.
“Immune systems are more easily compromised as we age, and older adults, especially those with chronic health conditions, have an increased risk of developing serious complications from the flu,” said Olsen. As such, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests adults older than 65 years of age seek medical advice early on in the event that antiviral drugs are required to treat their flu symptoms, since such medications tend to be more effective when given early. Patients in the aforementioned age range who contract the flu are also at greater risk of developing pneumonia, and are encouraged to get a pneumococcal vaccine.
Visit www.health.ny.gov/diseases/communicable/influenza/seasonal to learn more.