by Carol Gore, CNO, Saint Mary’s Regional
Carol Gore, CNO
It is hard to believe that in the coming weeks, the temperature will begin its downward trend, and the fall season will already be upon us. This also means that flu season is just around the corner – a period which usually peaks between December and February, but can last as late as May.
Influenza (flu) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness and can even lead to death in certain situations. Anyone can come down with the flu, but individuals with a greater risk of developing flu-related complications include children younger than five years old, adults 65 and older, pregnant women, residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, and those with certain medical conditions like asthma, heart disease and blood disorders.
At Saint Mary’s Regional, our mission is Making Communities Healthier®, and one of the most important ways we do that is by ensuring that our community understands how to fight preventable diseases, like the flu. And given the challenges posed by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic this year, it has never been more important to be proactive about your health. Fortunately, there are a few simple things you can do to protect yourself, your family and our community; prevent the flu from spreading; and even speed up your recovery if you do become ill.
First – and most importantly – make the wise decision to get vaccinated. Flu vaccination is the single-best way to protect yourself from the virus. While it is still possible to contract the flu after getting vaccinated, it is much less likely; and should you get sick, studies show that flu vaccinations can make your illness less severe. Plus, getting your vaccination will help give you valuable peace of mind that you’re doing everything you can to guard against the flu, particularly as the COVID-19 pandemic surges on. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) believes it is possible to test positive for flu (as well as other respiratory pathogens) and the virus that causes COVID-19 at the same time. So while there still isn’t a vaccine for COVID-19, you can – and most certainly should – take advantage of the flu shot to reduce your risk of illness this fall and winter.
The CDC recommends annual flu vaccination for everyone six months and older, with any age-appropriate flu vaccine. If you are considering a nasal spray flu vaccine, it is important to know that this option is approved by the CDC for use in non-pregnant individuals, ages two through 49, and that there is a precaution against this option for those with certain underlying medical conditions. You should talk with your healthcare provider regarding what flu vaccination method works best for you.
Flu vaccines can take approximately two weeks to become fully effective, so you should plan to receive your flu vaccine before flu activity begins in your area, if possible. A good rule of thumb is to get vaccinated no later than the end of October.
You can visit your county health unit, a walk-in clinic or pharmacy, or your primary care provider’s office to receive a flu vaccination. If you don’t have a provider, we can connect you with one. Just browse the Find a Physician section on this website, or call 479-968-2345 for help.
Beating the flu truly begins with you. In addition to getting vaccinated, there are several other simple actions you can take to protect yourself and your family, and help prevent the spread of flu and other infections during flu season and year-round, including:
- Washing your hands regularly with soap and water for 20 seconds, or using a hand sanitizer that is at least 60 percent alcohol-based;
- Avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth;
- Avoiding sharing food, cups, or eating utensils;
- Regularly disinfecting your home and belongings, such as door knobs, light switches, children’s toys, and play areas;
- Staying home from school or work if you are sick to prevent the spread of germs;
- Covering your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing with a tissue, your sleeve, or elbow — NOT your bare hands;
- Calling Saint Mary’s or your primary care provider with any questions.
Saint Mary’s Regional also is taking the appropriate steps at our facility to help prevent the flu, COVID-19, and other respiratory illnesses from spreading by:
- Implementing universal masking for patients, providers, employees, visitors, and anyone else entering our facility;
- Setting up stations stocked with alcohol-based sanitizers, tissues and hands-free trash cans throughout our facility ;
- Enhancing our already stringent cleaning and disinfection protocols;
- Encouraging all patients, staff, and visitors to get their flu vaccination;
- Providing educational materials to all visitors about everyday preventive actions;
- Limiting visitation hours to help limit the spread of infection.
If you or someone you know begins to notice symptoms including coughing, sore throat, fever or other upper respiratory symptoms, please see your healthcare provider right away. Many of the most common symptoms of flu are consistent with COVID-19, so it may be hard to tell the difference between them. Testing may be needed to help confirm a diagnosis.
Regardless, it is very important to take action and not ignore symptoms when they occur. You should limit contact with others as much as possible after noticing symptoms, and should stay home (or keep your child home) for at least 24 hours after the fever is gone, except to seek medical care. The good news is that when flu is detected early, prescription antiviral drugs can often help treat the illness and shorten the time you are sick by one or two days.
For additional information about the 2020-21 flu season, visit the CDC website at www.cdc.gov/flu or contact the Pope County Health Unit at 479-968-6004.