by Lindsey Minard, BS, RN, infection control coordinator, Winona Health
Flu season is once again upon us, so before you set off to visit family and friends for the holidays, there are some simple things you can do to make sure that you’ll be spreading love and joy instead of germs.
The flu is a respiratory virus that causes a sudden, high fever (usually 101 degrees or higher), a hacking, unproductive cough, body and muscle aches, and headaches. You’ve probably heard that everyone six months of age and older should get the flu vaccine every year, but did you know that it takes about two weeks after receiving the vaccine for your body’s immune system to be ready to fight the flu virus? Since we can’t predict when or where you might be exposed to the flu, the sooner you get your flu shot the better!
It is especially important for pregnant women to receive the flu vaccine, because when a pregnant woman gets the flu vaccine, her body passes some immunity to the baby that can protect it after birth. People with chronic health problems such as diabetes, asthma, or heart conditions should also make it a priority to get a flu shot, since they are much more likely to end up hospitalized with severe complications if they do get sick with the flu. Another group at risk for serious complications from the flu is seniors. Studies have shown that a person’s immune system becomes weaker and less effective at fighting viruses like influenza at around 65 years of age. For this reason, people 65 years and older should request the special “High Dose” flu shot from their doctor, as it helps their immune systems to provide more protection against the flu.
Another easy but often underestimated way to prevent the spread of influenza is by washing your hands with soap and water frequently. How many times today did you touch a door handle, the buttons on a debit card reader at the store, a computer keyboard, or the light switch? We call these “high-touch” areas because so many people touch them every day. These normal, everyday items often contain more germs than most public toilet seats, yet we don’t always think to wash our hands after touching them.
Which brings us to the next important tool in protecting yourself against the flu virus – don’t touch your “T-zone”! Your “T-zone” is the area of your face where your eyes, nose, and mouth are located, and these three places are the only way for the flu virus to get inside your body! Since germs and viruses like influenza stick to your hands so easily, try not to touch your T-zone unless you wash your hands before and after. Many people don’t realize how often they touch their eyes, nose, or mouth throughout the day, so being more aware of it can help cut down on exposure to viruses.
So, before you enjoy all the extra contact with family and friends that this wonderful time of year brings, be sure to get your flu shot, and remember to wash your hands frequently and keep them off of your T-zone in order to protect yourself and those you love!