By Linda Bell, M.D.
Director, Bureau of Communicable Disease Prevention and Control
There’s nothing like all the hugs, kisses and displays of affection we’re sure to get from family and friends during various holiday parties, family gatherings and visits with friends and neighbors.
Unfortunately, all of that merrymaking can sometimes invite an unwelcomed guest: the flu.
No one wants the flu at any time, let alone during the holidays. The contagious disease can lead to hospitalization — and even death.
There’s still time to get your flu vaccine
If you haven’t done so, it’s not too late to get vaccinated and give yourself the gift that provides the best protection from the flu. The Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention and the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control recommend that everyone 6 months of age and older get a yearly flu vaccine.
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.
Although it is relatively early in this flu season, influenza activity in South Carolina at this point has been higher than normal. The number of influenza-associated hospitalizations reported in individuals in the 65 years and older age group is nearly double the average number of cases reported over the past five flu seasons.
That is why vaccination to prevent influenza is particularly important for those 65 years and older, as well as other people who are at high risk of severe flu illness and serious complications from influenza. Other groups who are at high risk include children 5 and younger, pregnant women and those with chronic medical conditions, such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease. But it’s important to remember that even healthy people who get the flu can have serious complications, like pneumonia, hospitalization or even death.
National Influenza Vaccination Week
This is National Influenza Vaccination Week (Dec. 3-9), and there is no better time to remind not only older adults, but everyone to get their annual flu vaccine. It’s the single best way to protect yourselves and your loved ones from the flu this holiday season — and throughout the year.
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.
Here’s why vaccination is important
There is no shortage of reasons for getting 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. Getting vaccinated yourself also protects people around you, including those who are more vulnerable to serious flu illness.
- Flu vaccination can reduce flu illnesses, doctors’ visits and missed work and school due to flu.
- While good hand washing practices are always recommended, they only provide limited protection. Flu vaccines offer lasting protection against the flu for the entire flu season.
- The flu vaccine has been shown to reduce the risk of flu-associated hospitalizations and deaths.
Take preventive measures against the flu
In addition to receiving an annual flu vaccine, South Carolinians are encouraged to take the following preventive measures:
- Avoid contact with people who are sick.
- Stay home from work, school and errands if you are sick to avoid getting others sick.
- 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 cover yourself.
- Wash your hands often and thoroughly.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. You can become infected by touching one of these areas after touching something that is covered in germs.
For more information about the flu and to find a clinic near you, visit the DHEC website at www.scdhec.gov/flu.
Do your part to help keep the flu off the guest list this holiday season. Get vaccinated.