WE DO NOT LIVE in a sterile environment. There are germs all around us. In fact, you carry more germ cells on your body than human ones. Most of these germs are harmless and actually beneficial by helping us digest food and aid our immune system. However, there are others that can make you sick and be spread to others. So, the question becomes, how do we prevent ourselves from getting sick? Unless you want to move to the middle of nowhere or live in a bubble, it is important for us all to take some simple steps to minimize the chances of getting sick. This is even more important during the flu season.
Flu season is off to any earlier start in Florida. At this time, we are seeing increased influenza and influenza-like illness (ILI) activity compared to the same time last year. The influenza A (H3) strain is the most common strain of the flu so far this season in Florida and in the U.S. While it is too early to tell if this flu season will be worse than other years, history tells us that seasons when the influenza A (H3) strain is most common often are associated with a harsher flu season, especially in the elderly.
The flu vaccine is safe and continues to be the best way to protect yourself and others from the flu. In December, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that this year’s flu vaccine is not as effective against the influenza A (H3) strain because the virus changed. Despite the change or drift in this strain, vaccination still can decrease severity of illness. It also can protect against other circulating strains of the virus, which is why the vaccine is still recommended. The flu vaccine is offered in many locations, including your doctor’s office, clinics, pharmacies, schools, as well as the health department.
Here are some steps you can take to help protect yourself:
- Get the flu shot if you have not done so already.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Cough and sneeze into a tissue or your elbow.
- Wash your hands frequently with soap and water.
- Keep your hands away from your face.
- If you are experiencing symptoms of the flu including fever, headache, severe cough, runny nose, body aches, see your primary care provider as soon as possible. Early treatment with antiviral medications is important and can help people recover more quickly and help prevent complications.
Let’s be proactive and take these simple steps to minimize your chances of getting sick this flu season. Then again, you can always opt for that bubble. For more information, please visit www.mypolkhealth.org.
article by DR. ULYEE CHOE
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dr. Ulyee Choe, an infectious disease physician, serves the community as director of the Florida Department of Health in Polk County (FDOH-Polk) and as a Polk County Medical Association member. For more information about FDOH-Polk, visit www.mypolkhealth.net.