WINCHESTER — It’s not too late get your flu shot, and if you haven’t, it’s definitely time to do so.
Flu is now officially widespread in Virginia, about four weeks earlier than last year, and the flu trackers at the Virginia Department of Health have noted a recent significant rise in cases of influenza-like-illness, or “ILI,” at emergency rooms and urgent care centers.
This means that if you’re not immunized against flu, you have a much higher chance of catching the disease, and that chance is rising by the day. There’s no more deserving way to earn the title of “Grinch” than getting sick with the flu and then passing it on to friends and family that you encounter during holiday gatherings. If you’ve been holding out, remember, it takes two weeks for the shot to protect you, so get your flu shot now.
The flu does more than spread holiday misery. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that influenza was responsible for making some 40 million Americans sick last flu season and causing 647,000 hospital stays and 61,000 deaths. In recent years, more Americans have died from flu or its complications than from motor vehicle accidents, from violent acts, or even from the opioid crisis. For most of us, flu is merely an unpleasant sickness that causes lost work time. For the very old or very young, pregnant women, and for those with chronic illnesses, it can be deadly.
How can you prevent the spread of flu?
Get your flu shot. Your local Health Department offers flu shots on a walk-in basis most days. When you see a big sign that says GET YOUR FLU SHOT or similar encouragement outside the clinic, we’re giving shots. The Health Department accepts nearly all insurance, including Medicaid. Flu shots are also available from your health care provider and numerous pharmacies in the area. While it doesn’t protect from all cases of flu, it does significantly decrease the likelihood of getting sick and of passing the misery on to another person. Your immune system takes about two weeks to respond to the shot, so the sooner you get it the better. Almost everyone older than six months can get the flu shot. There are a few people with a severe allergy who should not receive the vaccine, but such cases are rare. Talk to your healthcare provider if you think you may be one of them.
Wash your hands frequently, and cover coughs and sneezes. You should always wash your hands before eating or drinking, and after using the toilet or public facility. Use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available. If you cough or sneeze on your hands, wash them. Avoid touching your face, especially your eyes, nose, or mouth, as flu germs can be passed by direct contact. Clean or disinfect frequently used surfaces at home.
If you do get sick, stay home. Unfortunately, that may mean missing holiday gatherings. Influenza can resemble a cold, with stuffy or runny nose, cough, and sore throat, but with usually with the added symptoms of fever, body aches, headache, and a general feeling of being ill. Flu viruses are passed by inhaling tiny droplets from an infected person’s cough or sneeze, or touching surfaces where those droplets have landed or dried. When you stay home, your coughs and sneezes can’t reach as many people. Any time you cough or sneeze, do so into a tissue (which you then discard and wash your hands) or into the crook of your elbow. If you are sick, especially avoid contact with the elderly, pregnant women, those under 6 months of age, or persons with chronic diseases. If possible, stay home at least until your fever has been gone for 24 hours.
Seek medical attention where appropriate. Most people with the flu can self-treat at home with over-the-counter medicines. However, children under age 2, persons over 65, pregnant women, and those with chronic diseases who have flu symptoms should see their healthcare provider, preferably within the first 48 hours, to be considered for anti-viral medication. Anyone with flu who experiences trouble breathing or severe symptoms should seek immediate medical care. In infants and young children, being listless, turning ashen or bluish, or being unable to feed due to rapid breathing should prompt immediate medical attention as well.
Practice healthy habits. Eat nutritious foods and drink water. Aerobic exercise (when well), staying hydrated, adequate sleep (7-8 hours per night for adults), and avoiding unnecessary stress can help your body resist illness.
One final word: the flu shot cannot give you the flu. People who got the flu right after getting the shot were going to catch it anyway (remember, the shot takes two weeks to work) or they caught a strain not covered by the shot. The flu shot can only reduce your risk of flu, not increase it.
Don’t be a Grinch. Get your flu shot.
The Frederick/Winchester Health Department is located at 10 Baker St. The Clarke County Health Department is at 100 N. Buckmarsh St., Berryville.