Viruses that infect the nose, throat, and lungs cause illnesses like the flu and colds. They are usually spread from person to person when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks. They also can spread when you touch cold or flu viruses deposited from another person on a desktop, doorknob, desk, telephone receiver, or handrail. Some viruses and bacteria can live for two hours or more on hard surfaces. If you then touch your eyes, mouth, or nose before washing your hands, the viruses or bacteria enter your body and infection can occur.
The flu, also called seasonal influenza, is caused by one of several strains of the flu virus (type A or B) that infect the nose, throat, and lungs. While the flu makes life miserable for a week or two for many people, it can be deadly for the very young, elderly, and those with compromised immune
systems. Flu season can start as early as October. It peaks anywhere from late December to early April.
You can prevent the flu this season by taking one simple step: get a flu vaccine.
Unfortunately, some people think that getting a flu vaccine is too much trouble or costs too much. Or they mistakenly believe that getting a flu shot will make them sick or make them more likely to catch the flu.
Don’t believe the rumor that a flu shot can give you even a mild case of the flu. It’s impossible. The vaccine does not contain a form of the flu virus that can give you the flu. The injected form of the vaccine is made from pieces of dead flu virus cells. After getting the vaccine, some people have mild flu-like symptoms as a side effect. This is not the same thing as having the flu. When you get the flu vaccine, your body reacts and makes antibodies that give you immunity against the virus.
The main reason you should be revaccinated each year is that the flu virus is constantly changing into new strains. Each year the CDC tries to figure out which flu strains will have the biggest effect. The CDC works with vaccine makers to create the specific vaccine that will fight the predicted strains for that year.
Who should get a flu shot?
The Centers for Disease Control recommends everyone six months and older get vaccinated. The following people should not get the flu shot without getting approval from their healthcare provider:
- Those with severe allergy to chicken eggs
- Those who have had a severe reaction to the flu vaccine in the past
- Those who developed Guillain-Barré syndrome within six weeks of a previous flu vaccine
- Those with a moderate-to-severe illness that includes a fever. These people should wait until they have recovered from their illness
You’ll need to take some proactive steps every day to protect your health. Wash your hands often with soap and warm water for 20 seconds. Keep an alcohol-based hand sanitizer on your desk or with you at all times. After coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose, wash your hands or rub sanitizer into them until they are dry. Clean your hands after using public transportation or conference room equipment. When soap and water aren’t available, use alcohol-based throwaway hand wipes or gel sanitizers that contain at least 60 percent alcohol. If using a gel, rub it into your hands until they are dry.
Even after thorough cleansing, don’t touch your eyes, nose, or mouth with your hands. Viruses lurk everywhere and can stay on surfaces long after an infected person has touched them. Keep your work surface clean. Use a household disinfectant to wipe down your desk, keyboard, mouse, telephone, and other objects you touch often. Follow the directions on the label. If possible, don’t use coworkers’ offices, desks, or supplies. If you must use them, wipe them down with disinfectant first.
Be considerate and look for ways to protect those around you. Keep tissues on your desk, and cough or sneeze into a tissue. Stay at home if you feel sick with flu-like symptoms, like a fever or chills and a cough or sore throat. Other symptoms include runny nose, headache, fatigue and muscle aches, and sometimes diarrhea and vomiting.
Contact your healthcare provider to find out whether you should be tested or treated for the flu. Stay at home until at least 24 hours after your temperature has stayed below 100.4°F (38°C) without the use of fever-reducing medicine. Some symptoms may remain. If you have a family member who has the flu but you feel well, it is safe to go to work. Check your health daily and stay home if you start to feel sick.
Many insurers cover flu vaccines at no cost to their members. If you don’t have a primary care physician, call (865) 835-4662 for a personalized referral.