Influenza – the flu virus – can be a major inconvenience for anyone. But for adults over 50, young children, and those affected by chronic medical conditions, the flu can be deadly. This year’s flu season is one of the worst in recent history, and it’s hitting particularly hard in Florida and Georgia, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As of mid-January, the CDC estimates that at least 9.7 million people nationwide have been infected with the flu this year, causing about 87,000 hospitalizations and 4,800 deaths.
Now more than ever, it’s essential to be informed on best practices for staying healthy and avoiding influenza. Flu can be spread a number of ways, including when someone who is infected coughs, sneezes, or talks. You can also get it from touching your mouth or nose after you come into contact with a contaminated surface. The best way to avoid the flu is by carefully following hygienic practices, such as thorough handwashing. The CDC also recommends a yearly flu vaccine for everyone at least six months old as the first step in protecting against illness.
Anyone with flu symptoms should stay home and avoid personal contact unless they are getting medical care. Recognizing the flu can be tricky, but it usually comes on more suddenly and severely than a cold. Warning signs include high fever, headache, cough, stuffy nose, sore throat, and muscle aches.
Now that kids are back at school after the holiday break, they are at higher risk of catching or spreading the virus. Children's symptoms may also include stomach pains, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or other abdominal symptoms. While vaccination is the single best way to protect kids from the influenza virus, there are a few practical steps that parents and educators can take to increase prevention, including:
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Stay home if symptoms occur.
- Keep hands away from the eyes, nose, or mouth, which can transmit the virus.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, especially when someone is ill.
Anyone who suspects they have the flu should contact a health care provider to get tested and see if a prescription for an antiviral is appropriate. Antiviral treatment can speed recovery and prevent complications if it’s taken in the first 48 hours of infection.
For more information, or to schedule an appointment with a Capital Health Plan physician, visit capitalhealth.com.