What you need to know this flu season

By, Dr. Teresa Foo, MD, MPH
DHEC Medical Consultant Immunizations and Acute Disease Epi Divisions

This month marked the official start of the 2015-2016 flu season, and serves a reminder of the importance of receiving your yearly flu vaccine. The flu can infect anyone, even healthy people. The following Q & A provides you with the information you need to know to help protect you and your loved ones from the flu this season.

What is the Flu?

The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus. The flu can cause mild to severe illness and can be deadly – especially to vulnerable people, including the very young, the elderly and those with certain chronic health conditions.

The best way to prevent the flu is by getting a flu vaccine each year.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms can include a sudden onset of fever, dry cough, headache, muscle aches, tiredness, sore throat, and nasal congestion or stuffiness. Others may throw-up and have diarrhea.    

How is it spread?

Seasonal flu is a contagious viral infection.  It is usually spread from person to person. People who have the flu may spread it to others about 1 day before getting sick to 5 -7 days after.  Most experts believe that flu viruses spread when people with the flu cough, sneeze or talk. This spreads wet drops which can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby. Less often, a person might also get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth or nose.

Who is at risk?

Anyone can get the flu, even healthy people. Certain people are at greater risk for serious complications if they get the flu. This includes older people (especially people 65 years of age and older), young children, pregnant women and people with certain health conditions (such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease). While it is important for everyone to receive their yearly flu vaccine, it is especially important for people in these high risk groups to receive vaccination.

How can you help prevent the flu?

The severity of flu seasons varies from year to year, that’s another reason why it’s important to get your flu vaccine each year. The CDC and DHEC recommend that everyone 6 months of age and older get a yearly flu vaccine; it is the single best way to prevent seasonal flu.

In addition to receiving an annual flu vaccination, South Carolinians are encouraged to take the following preventive measures:

  • Staying away from people who are sick.
  • Staying home from work, school and errands if you are sick. By doing so, you will help keep others from getting sick, too.
  • Covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze. Use a tissue if one is handy. Throw it away immediately after use. Otherwise, use the crook of your elbow.
  • Washing your hands often and thoroughly.
  • Avoiding touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs are often spread when someone touches something that is covered with germs and then touches their eyes, nose or mouth.

Other good habits include getting plenty of exercise and sleep, managing your stress, drinking water and eating good food to help you stay healthy in the winter and all year.

Where can I get the flu vaccine?

It’s important to get the flu vaccine not only to protect yourself, but also your loved ones from the seasonal flu. Even if you don’t have a regular health care provider you can still get the flu vaccine. In addition to DHEC, many local providers — including doctors’ offices, clinics, pharmacies, college health centers, schools and workplaces — now offer flu vaccines. We encourage everyone to find the facility that works best for them.

To find the DHEC seasonal flu clinic nearest you, click here.

For more information: scdhec.gov/flu

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