Health Spotlight – Flu Prevention
- February 8, 2019
Defeating the Flu
Important prevention and recovery tips
Flu season is here and taking simple steps can keep you and your family healthy. One of the best ways to prevent the flu is to get vaccinated every year.
“It’s never too late to get the vaccine,” said Natividad Infection Preventionist Drew Massengill, RN, BSN. “You can get the flu shot when the season begins each year in October all the way until the end of the season in April.”
Vaccines are especially important for children and the elderly, the populations most vulnerable to complications from the flu. But even if you’re healthy, you can get the flu and suffer from complications or require hospitalization. “No one likes to
be sick,” Massengill said. “When you get the flu shot, you’re protecting yourself and others around you from what can potentially be a life-threatening illness.”
Natividad offers every patient who is hospitalized a flu shot during flu season and holds vaccination clinics for its employees. Natividad also partners with the Monterey County Health Department to bring free influenza vaccination clinics to the community. Vaccines are available for individuals 6 months of age and older and are offered at no cost. Children must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian. A complete list of clinic locations, dates and times is available on the county’s website.
“At Natividad, our goal is 100% vaccination for all employees,” Massengill said. “A surprising number of doctors and nurses hate getting shots, but they do it because they prioritize their patients’ health. Anyone who doesn’t get vaccinated needs to take precautions like mandatory masking in patient areas.”
How it spreads
The flu virus can live outside the body for up to 12 hours and can spread when a person comes in contact with something an infected person has touched. “Public transit, for example, can be ripe with viruses,” Massengill said. According to a report by MSN, the three most germ-infected things you touch on a daily basis include: your smartphone, paper money and a reusable water bottle. The article states that “one study found that cell phones carried 10 times more bacteria than a toilet seat … and swabs from water bottles of 12 athletes found that they contain 100 times more bacteria than the average dog toy.”
The flu virus usually enters the body through the “t-zone”— membranes in your eyes, nose and mouth. People tend to touch their faces about 150 times a day, which creates many opportunities for infection. “The number one way to prevent the spread of flu is hand washing,” Massengill said. “I can’t speak to that enough. Our hands are very dirty, and a lot of people cough into their hands or wipe their noses constantly.”
The CDC recommends that hand washing last 20 seconds — about the time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice — and make sure you wash your thumbs, the backs of your hands and your cuticles. Massengill said he keeps a bottle of hand sanitizer clipped to his bag and a full-size bottle in his car, using them when water and soap aren’t available.
What to do if you get sick
If you do get the flu, it’s important to get treatment and make sure you don’t spread the virus to other people. While some people choose to wait the flu out at home, Massengill recommends seeking medical treatment for sustained high fevers and breathing problems caused by thick mucus that reduces oxygenation in the lungs.
Medical professionals can prescribe Tamiflu, which shortens the severity of the illness, and Natividad can admit patients for breathing therapy or an IV to counter- act flu-related dehydration.
“If someone has a fever, if at all possible, that employee shouldn’t be working,” Massengill said. “If you have to return, work with your supervisor to have low-contact work, constantly wash your hands, sneeze and cough into the crook of your elbow (of shirt) and wear a mask.” Protective masks are available at most drug stores.
“Be cautious about returning to work too soon,” Massengill said. “If you are coughing and sneezing, you’re contagious. The worst flu symptoms typically last about a week; but if symptoms linger, you can still spread the virus.”
For comprehensive information about the flu and vaccination, visit www.cdc.gov/flu.
Did you Know?
Flu vaccines typically contain protection against two types of flu: strains predicted more prevalent in the fall and strains dominant in the new year. Because the flu shot protects against just these three or four strains, and there may be more circulating, it can’t guarantee 100% protection. But if you are vaccinated and still get the flu you usually won’t get as sick or have it as long. Flu shots are very safe, and most people don’t have any side effects. If they do, they are usually very mild and go away within a few days.
The truth about antibiotics
A virus, not bacteria, causes the flu. Taking antibiotics when you have the flu virus is ineffective. In addition, taking antibiotics when you don’t need them can also lead to antibiotic-resistant infections, putting you and your family at risk of much more serious health concerns.