by Cesca Janece Waterfield
It’s that time of year again, when the flu virus may seem like a worrisome but unavoidable part of the season. The flu is an infection of the respiratory tract caused by the influenza virus. You can catch flu two ways: by touching respiratory fluids of an infected person, and then touching your own nose or eyes, and by inhaling infectious particles sent through the air, such as when a sick person coughs or sneezes. That means that an environmental surface like a handrail, or a gesture like shaking hands, can transmit the virus. It also means that breathing can as well!
While you simply can’t avoid every possible culprit, you can take precautions against getting sick. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) states that the flu vaccine is “the single best way to protect against the flu.” John Beckner, Director of Pharmacy and Health Services for Ukrop’s agrees. “Really the only people who shouldn’t get the vaccine are people who are allergic to the vaccine or a component of it,” Beckner says. “Anyone allergic to eggs should not get the vaccine.” Ukrop’s currently offers walk-in service for flu shots at their 22 area stores, and a schedule of flu clinics where pharmacy teams can offer prompt protection to more people.
Scientists have identified many types of influenza, and the flu vaccine guards against the major three. If you get infected by a type of flu virus other than the main three, studies show that your symptoms will be far milder if you’ve been protected by the vaccine.
And if you’ve resisted getting a flu shot because you don’t like needles, there’s more good news. “There are other options other than getting stuck,” Beckner points out. “Healthy people ages 2 to 49 are eligible for the nasal vaccine.”
There are stubborn myths about the flu vaccine, including that it will infect you and make you sick. “It’s impossible to get sick from the vaccine,” Beckner says. “About the worst thing that could happen is you’ll get a little sore for a while.”
Of course, it’s important to take other common sense precautions against the flu. “Other things are washing your hands as often as you can this time of year. Germs spread with people being inside a lot as the weather grows colder,” Beckner says. Since the flu virus can live on surfaces like keyboards, doorknobs, and handles for several hours, it’s especially important to disinfect surfaces if someone in your home is sick. “If you’re using the phone that other people have used, wipe off the mouthpiece with an alcohol swab,” Beckner recommends. Additionally, tissues should be thrown away immediately to help prevent infectious particles from spreading.
“Stay home if you’re sick, or keep your children home if they’re sick,” Beckner urges. “That really does a lot to prevent the spread of germs. Eating the right kinds of foods so you won’t get run down and to help keep your immune system up helps.”
Your best defense may be taking the time to get a flu vaccine. The Website for the American Lung Association allows you to input your zip code for a list of clinics in your area. The Website for Ukrop’s posts a list of clinics, as well as locations with ongoing service. Wherever you choose to go, flu shots are reasonably priced. “It’s more affordable than it used to be,” Beckner says. Total cost depends on your health insurance coverage. Ukrop’s will offer a discount to shoppers with UVC Cards.
“The flu season is January-February timeframe. The best time to get a flu shot is the October-November timeframe,” Beckner says. “For those people who haven’t gotten the vaccine by Thanksgiving, it’s certainly not too late. Your protection if you take the vaccine now, will take you through the flu season.”
The CDC and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommend the flu vaccine to anyone who wants to lower her risk as the best method of flu prevention. In addition, they strongly recommend vaccination for the following high-risk groups, their close contacts, and health providers:
- People aged 65 years and older
- Nursing home residents
- Children and teenagers up to age 18 who take aspirin regularly and might be at risk for developing Reye syndrome if they get the flu
- Pregnant women who will be in the second or third trimester of pregnancy during flu season
- Pregnant women who have a high-risk condition
- Adults and children with asthma, or chronic disorders of the pulmonary or cardiovascular systems
- Adults and children who were hospitalized during the past year because of chronic disease including heart, lung or kidney disease, diabetes, asthma, anemia, or immunosuppression (for example, caused by HIV infection or certain medications)