4 tips for staying healthy during flu season

2/24/2016 by Dr. Robert Jacobson

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While the best prevention is getting an influenza vaccine, it's not 100 percent effective against all strains of the flu. Following these four simple tips can help you prevent infection and stay healthy: 

  1. Keep your hands clean. Clean, germ-free hands are key to helping prevent transfer of infection. Wet your hands thoroughly and scrub with soap for at least 20 seconds. Rinse and dry your hands thoroughly; use a paper towel or your elbow to turn off the water tap. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers work well for hands that aren't visibly dirty. Use enough to cover all surfaces of your hands, rub well until your hands are dry. 
  2. Cover your coughs and sneezes. Use a tissue to cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze. Then put it in the waste basket. If you don't have a tissue handy, use the crook of your elbow. Be sure to thoroughly clean your hands after coughing or sneezing. 
  3. Avoid, avoid, avoid. Avoid touching your nose, eyes or mouth. Avoid crowds and close contact with others who are sick. Avoid smoking, and keep your home smoke-free. 
  4. Prevent the spread of infection. Get vaccinated against the flu. Don't share eating utensils, glasses, towels or other personal items. Get extra rest and drink lots of fluids (especially water). If you are sick, stay home! Respiratory illnesses such as influenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), whooping cough and the common cold spread easily. 

What if you do get sick?

The common symptoms of influenza include fever, cough, sore throat, runny/stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, increased tiredness and occasionally diarrhea and vomiting (most common in young children and the elderly). These symptoms usually get better on their own after three to five days. 

Contact your health care provider as soon as symptoms develop if you: 

  • Are pregnant
  • Have a sick child under age two
  • Are over age 65
  • Have a neurologic or neuromuscular disorder, asthma, chronic lung infection (such as COPD or cystic fibrosis), heart disease (except high blood pressure), metabolic disorder (such as diabetes) or a weakened immune system due to disease or medications

Get medical help immediately for:

  • Fast of difficulty in breathing
  • Severe/repeated vomiting
  • Dehydration - signs include decreased fluid intake, decreased urination or no tears when a child cries
  • Pain in chest or belly
  • Dizziness or increased confusion
  • Fever with a rash
  • Difficulty waking up/interacting

Most people don't need antiviral medication treatment such as oseltamivir (Tamiflu®) or zanamivir (Relenza®). These medications may be prescribed by your care team to help prevent serious complications. If taken soon after you notice symptoms, they may shorten your illness by a day or so. 

Dr. Robert M. Jacobson is a primary care pediatrician in Employee and Community Health's (ECH) Division of Community Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine and the medical director of the ECH and Southeast Minnesota Region Immunization Program.