Here’s How to Stay Healthy During Flu Season

By Satesh Bidaisee, Associate Professor of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, St. George's University
March 7, 2019

Flu season is far from over. Health officials recently warned that the 2018-19 flu season could last until May.[1]

The flu isn’t a minor bug — it’s a life-threatening illness. The disease can cause pneumonia, bronchitis, and even heart attacks.[2][3] Over 80,000 people died from the flu during last year’s season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.[4]

The flu is also easily spread. People can remain contagious for weeks after getting infected.[5]

Here are a few tips from the public-health experts at St. George’s University for avoiding the flu.

First, everyone six months and older should get the flu vaccine.[6] The flu shot prevented more than 5 million cases of the flu in the 2016-17 flu season.[7] While it’s ideal for people to get the vaccine as soon as it becomes available, it still helps to get the shot late in the season.[8] Doctors should discuss the importance of the flu vaccine with individuals who are particularly susceptible to the disease — such as healthcare workers, people suffering from chronic disease, patients undergoing chemotherapy, and the elderly. Doctors may also advise that these patients take anti-viral drugs.

Practicing good hygiene can also prevent the flu. People should frequently wash their hands, especially after interacting with a sick person.[9] That may seem like common sense, but medical research backs it up. A 2016 study from the journal Medicine concluded that the risk of flu infection was substantially lower among people who frequently washed their hands and avoided touching their face.[10]

It’s also essential to eat well. Fruits and vegetables can help ward off the flu.[11] Consider one study from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Researchers found that compounds called flavonoids, which are found in foods like blueberries, can help prevent severe flu infections.[12]

For those who do experience flu symptoms, it’s critical to avoid contact with other individuals while those symptoms persist. Covering the nose and mouth while coughing and sneezing — along with discarding used tissues — are both effective measures.

Because they’re often the gatekeepers to the healthcare system, primary care doctors are well-positioned to educate patients about flu prevention. People should see their doctors regularly to maintain optimal health.

Three-quarters of St. George’s graduates enter primary care specialties; one-third of St. George’s graduates practice medicine in medically underserved areas.[13]

The flu can be devastating, but there are simple ways to combat it.

 

[1] https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/health/2019/02/25/flu-season-2019-severe-strain-rise-what-you-should-know/2978595002/

[2] http://www.immunize.org/catg.d/p4208.pdf p. 1

[3] https://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/flu-complications#1

[4] https://www.cdc.gov/features/fluhighrisk/index.html

[5] https://www.verywellhealth.com/flu-incubation-period-770308

[6] https://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/children.htm

[7] https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/qa/vaccineeffect.htm

[8] https://www.verywellhealth.com/is-it-too-late-to-get-a-flu-shot-2633822

[9] https://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/features/avoid-cold-flu#1

[10] https://journals.lww.com/md-journal/Fulltext/2016/03150/Protective_Effect_of_Hand_Washing_and_Good.32.aspx

[11] https://www.uabmedicine.org/-/fighting-the-flu-what-you-can-do-beyond-getting-the-shot

[12] https://medicine.wustl.edu/news/natural-compound-coupled-with-gut-microbes-may-prevent-severe-flu/

[13] https://www.sgu.edu/academic-programs/school-of-medicine/graduate-success/

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