The flu has already been reported in Kentucky, so make sure you have had your shot

By Paul Pedersen

Contributing columnist

Dr. Paul Pedersen
Dr. Paul Pedersen

Have you had a flu shot?

Not only is your doctor appealing to you to get vaccinated, so is your pharmacist, and with good reason. A flu shot is your best protection from two to three weeks of misery, missed days of work or school and, possibly, some very serious, even life-threatening complications.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a flu shot for every American age 6 months and older. If you’re age 60 and older, regardless of how healthy you feel, it’s particularly important for you to get a shot as soon as possible. A majority of Americans who die from the flu every year are seniors who develop complications such as pneumonia.

Babies (6 months of age and older) and young children are also highly vulnerable since their immune systems are not yet fully developed. Parents and other adults caring for children should get protected. And women who are pregnant should get a shot to protect both themselves and their unborn child.

Peak flu season is typically during January and February, but cases have already been reported in Kentucky. Vaccines can take two weeks to become effective, so don’t procrastinate.

Getting a flu shot is the most effective way to protect yourself and others, but here are a few additional measures you can take:

▪ Practice good respiratory hygiene. When an infected person coughs or sneezes, microscopic organisms are carried on droplets that can be sprayed onto any nearby person or surface. If a tissue or handkerchief is not handy, cough into your elbow rather than your hand. From the hand, germs can spread indiscriminately to doorknobs, computer keyboards and TV remotes.

▪  Wash your hands frequently after shaking someone’s hand or touching a potentially contaminated surface. Regular soap and water will work. Carry an alcohol-based gel for those times when soap and water are not handy. And even when you think your hands are clean, try to avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. These are frequent gateways for germs to enter the body.

▪  Stay at home or isolate yourself when you think you’re coming down with a respiratory illness and encourage others to do the same. If you can’t miss a day, work from home or hole yourself up in your office and warn others to stay away.

▪  Avoid crowds as much as possible during cold and flu season. And avoid sharing plates, glasses, utensils or even computer keyboards.

Unfortunately, all of the above preventive measures, with the exception of vaccination, are usually practiced too late. You become contagious within 24 to 72 hours after being infected, nearly always before you begin to feel sick, and remaing contagious for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone.

Dr. Paul Pedersen is a family medicine physician at Baptist Health Medical Group Family Medicine in Barbourville.