The seasonal flu, when you come right down to it, is as frightening – perhaps more so – than that most horrifying of dreaded infections, Ebola. More frightening because it’s more common and much more easily transmitted than Ebola and other terrible infections.
So far this winter, 359 people have been hospitalized in Minnesota because of the flu, and a 7-year-old girl has died.
Fifteen other very young children have died of the flu, mostly in states in the West. And, not to forget, the flu season typically extends all the way through April.
As most people know by now, the annual flu shot – this season – is not effective against the nasty form of flu now making the rounds, a strain known as H3N2.
The Minnesota Department of Health and county health agencies are urging people to protect themselves and others against catching the flu bug, which is especially dangerous for the very young, the very old and those who have weak and compromised immune systems.
Here are some tips to keep the flu at bay:
- The surest way to avoid getting the flu is to wash your hands with hot water and soap many times each day. Wash them thoroughly, then rinse them well.
- People should carry tissues with them so if they feel a sneeze coming on or are about to cough, they can do so into the tissue, then throw it out and wash their hands as soon as possible. If no tissue is available, people should sneeze or cough onto their lower sleeve or into the bend of the arm.
- When leaving the house, take some alcohol-based hand sanitizer along and use it after touching anything in public places. It’s a good idea to wipe off the steering wheel and door handles with such sanitizer. Also, be sure to use the sanitizer handi-wipes available at the entrance to many stores.
- In the home environment, wipe doorknobs off with sanitary wipes twice a day. Other frequently touched objects – such as telephones, faucets, toilet flush handles, computer keyboards and countertops where food is prepared – should also be swabbed down.
- Learn the symptoms of the flu. They include one or more of the following: sore throat, fever, aching muscles, fatigue, sleepiness and general malaise, a “dead-to-the-world” feeling. Be sure to contact a doctor if symptoms are bad. Also, if you have trouble breathing or breathe in quick gasps, this could be a sign of the onset of pneumonia, and you should seek immediate medical help. Anti-viral drugs are effective in fighting the flu in most cases, but only if such drugs are used in the infection’s earliest stages.
- If you do have the flu, stay home and do not leave the house for any reason. Also keep away, as much as possible, from other family members. Limit or forbid guests from visiting until you feel better, which can take as long as a week to 10 days in some cases. If suffering from the flu, get lots of rest and sleep and eat sparingly but healthily until the illness takes its course. Drink lots of fluids even if you are not thirsty.
- Get the flu shot. True, it doesn’t protect against the H3N2 strain, but experts say getting it will guard against getting the other strain, the one it was meant for, and it might help lessen the symptoms caused by H3N2. Flu shots are available at local clinics, including walk-in clinics, as well as many pharmacies and even some large stores.
If the tips above are heeded, we can all truly minimize the risk of flu infections, and we will all be happier – not to mention safer. As in any infectious outbreak, the key to beating it is knowledge and preventive behaviors.