Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Fight the Flu Bug

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 5 percent to 20 percent of the U.S. population gets the flu each year, and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized with flu-related complications. The first and most important step in protecting against the flu is a yearly flu vaccine. The 2011-2012 vaccine will protect against all three strains of flu viruses expected to circulate this season, the CDC says.

Vaccinations are especially important for populations that are at risk, including children, pregnant women, people over age 65, and people with chronic health conditions, such as asthma, diabetes or heart and lung disease. Children under the age of six months are also at risk but are too young to be vaccinated, so people who care for them should be vaccinated instead.

Germs spread from person to person through coughing, sneezing or other close contact. Infected individuals can infect others beginning one day before their symptoms develop and up to five to seven days after becoming sick. To minimize the spread of germs, cover the nose and mouth with a tissue when sneezing or coughing, and immediately toss it into the trash. Wash hands often with soap and water, or use an alcohol-based hand rub if soap and water isn’t available. Avoid touching the eyes, nose or mouth, where germs are most likely to spread, and avoid close contact with those who are sick.

Once symptoms occur, prescription antiviral drugs can help decrease the symptoms and shorten the duration. Experts suggest that infected individuals should stay home for at least 24 hours after the fever is gone (without the use of fever-reducing medicine).

The best course of action is prevention. Get plenty of rest, eat properly, drink lots of fluids, manage stress and stay physically active. Practicing healthy habits can beat the flu before it starts.

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