As the seasons change and we head into fall, it’s important to take precautions to protect yourself from illnesses, like influenza — a respiratory infection caused by a number of viruses.
Influenza is a serious disease that can lead to hospitalization or even death. In the United States, flu season can begin as early as October, and end as late as May, so it’s critical to receive a vaccination each year to protect yourself during this time period.
Recent studies show that the flu vaccine can reduce the risk of flu illness by up to 60 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Each year, millions of people in the United States get the flu, and more than 200,000 are hospitalized because of the illness. Additionally, thousands of Americans die as a result of flu-related complications annually.
Rates of serious flu illness and death are most common in adults over the age of 65 who have chronic health problems, or young children. However, even healthy people can get sick from the flu and spread it to other people.
Symptoms of the flu often resemble that of a common cold, including sneezing and congestion. However, flu symptoms are sudden and also include fever, severe aches in muscles and joints, weakness or extreme fatigue, a sore throat or runny nose, flushed skin and watery eyes.
Those with severe symptoms may experience confusion, severe vomiting, sudden dizziness, shortness of breath, or pain and pressure in your chest or stomach. Those experiencing severe symptoms should seek immediate medical help.
Most flu patients require rest, plenty of fluids, and must avoid contact with others. In more severe cases, antiviral drugs may be prescribed by a physician to help shorten the length of your illness. The flu vaccine will not be able to treat the illness once it is present.
The best way to prevent seasonal flu is to receive a vaccination each year. Those 6-months-old and up should receive the vaccine, which causes antibodies to develop in your body that help protect it from infection.
Since most flu shots and nasal spray vaccines include a small amount of egg protein, you should let your doctor know if you have a severe egg allergy, as you may have to be vaccinated under supervision of a health care provider.
During flu season, it’s also imperative to practice good health habits, such as staying home when sick, washing your hands frequently, covering your nose and mouth when sneezing or coughing, avoiding contact with those who are sick, and refraining from touching your mouth, nose and eyes.
Before flu season begins, contact your physician to receive a flu vaccine. Since there are different types of flu shots, it’s essential to find out which one is right for you. If you contract the flu, contact your doctor as soon as possible, to help lessen the chance of serious illness. If you are pregnant and are having flu-like symptoms, it is essential to contact your doctor to help avoid complications.
Dr. Juan Martinez is with KentuckyOne Health Primary Care Associates.