By Linda Bell, M.D.
Director, DHEC Bureau of Disease Control and State Epidemiologist
With the holiday season upon us, please include staying healthy among all the other plans you make for this time of year. We are already two months into flu season; if you haven’t already done so: Get vaccinated against the flu.
This week is National Influenza Vaccination Week, a timely reminder that your annual flu vaccine is the single best way to protect yourselves and your loved ones from the flu this holiday season — and throughout the year. Catching the flu during the holidays could be more than just an inconvenience; illness with the flu can be life-threatening. Each flu season is unique; the timing of the peak activity and how severe a season will be are hard to predict making it very important to protect yourself against flu as early as possible.
The Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention and DHEC recommend that everyone six months of age and older get a yearly flu vaccine. Even if you don’t have a regular health care provider the flu vaccine is available in many settings. In addition to DHEC clinics, many local providers — including doctors’ offices, clinics, pharmacies, college health centers, schools and workplaces — now offer flu vaccines. DHEC encourages everyone to find the facility that works best for them.
Why get the vaccine?
- The flu vaccine gives your body the ability to protect itself against the flu because you cannot predict when you might be exposed to someone who is ill.
- Flu vaccines are very effective in protecting against several different strains of the flu that circulate each season when well matched to circulating flu strains.
- While good hand washing practices are always recommended, they only provide temporary protection. Flu vaccines offer lasting protection against the flu for at least six to eight months.
- The flu vaccine is the only protection shown to reduce hospitalization and deaths caused by the flu.
In addition to receiving an annual flu vaccine, South Carolinians are encouraged to take the following preventive measures:
- Stay away from people who are sick.
- Stay home from work and school, as well as refrain from errands, if you are sick to help keep others from getting sick too.
- Cover 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 to keep germs off of your hands and surfaces that you touch.
- Wash your hands often and thoroughly to prevent the flu and many other diseases.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs easily enter the body and cause infection when someone touches something that is covered with germs and then touches their eyes, nose or mouth.
Please consider other habits to stay healthy year round, including getting plenty of exercise and sleep, managing your stress, drinking water and eating nutritious foods.
Visit DHEC’s website for more information about the flu and to find a clinic near you www.scdhec.gov/flu.