In recent months there have been several reports about the Ebola Virus and those infected with it. The initial panic and fear may have subsided but individuals are still concerned about other communicable illnesses. While the exposure to the Ebola virus is minimal to the residents of Queens, the risk of getting ‘the flu” or Influenza is great. Millions of people get the flu each year and many die from it either because of the severity or from complications.
The most common symptoms of the flu are fever, cough, runny nose, sore throat and body aches. These symptoms sound similar to the common cold but the main difference is body aches. Many people who get the flu recover after a few days. Adults over the age of 65, pregnant women, children, individuals with respiratory health issues or weakened immune systems have a harder time recovering from the flu. Healthcare workers are also more at risk of getting the flu because of their daily interaction with sick people. Many hospitals are now requiring healthcare workers to get vaccinated to protect both the patients and the workers.
There are several things people can do to reduce getting and spreading the flu. First and foremost, the best way to minimize your risk of getting the flu is getting an annual flu vaccine or flu shot. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommend an annual flu shot for everyone 6 months or older and while the flu shot doesn’t protect you from every strain of the virus, it reduces your risk of getting sick in the winter months. Some people cannot take the flu vaccine because of certain allergies. Your health care provider will ask you about allergies to determine if you can get the flu shot. Flu shots are available at your doctor’s office and your local drug store. Some are even offered for free.
If you believe you have the flu, check with your provider as soon as you have symptoms. You can be given a prescription for an “anti-viral” medication. One of the most common anti-viral medications is Tamiflu. Anti-viral medications can lessen the time you are sick to about 1-2 days. In addition, you should avoid crowds and reduce the risk of spreading the flu. Wash your hands frequently and if you have to cough, do so in your sleeve and not in your hands. Use those sick days, drink lots of fluids and rest.
There is a common myth that you can get the flu from the vaccine. You cannot. The flu vaccine takes about 14 days for the body to build antibodies to fight the virus, so if an individual is exposed to the virus before that time they may very well get the flu.