By: Neil Lesitsky, MD
November 9, 2011
We’ve all had those days where we just don’t feel well – a cough, a runny nose, sneezing, body aches and maybe a fever. As the winter months approach, those symptoms could mean that you have the flu, or the influenza virus. But there are steps you can take to minimize your chances of contracting the flu.
The first step is to understand how the influenza virus spreads. Generally, influenza spreads from one person, who has the virus, to another person. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), this typically occurs when people who have the flu cough, sneeze or talk and create droplets that come in contact with another person.
The virus can also be contracted by touching a surface that has been contaminated by the influenza virus. A recent study by personal and health care product company Kimberly-Clark revealed that surfaces we come into contact with every day can be contaminated with bacteria and viruses, including gas pump handles, escalator rails and ATM and credit card machines. Handling money is also a common source of transmission.
To help ensure that you are not spreading viruses like influenza from a contaminated surface, wash your hands often with soap and water, and if soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub. Also, avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth after touching a surface that could be contaminated or after coming in contact with someone who is sick.
Even after taking these precautionary steps, it’s still possible to get sick. If you think you have the flu, based on the symptoms outlined above, it is recommended that you stay home and avoid contact with other people except to get medical care. In most cases, the flu is a mild illness, and most people do not need medical care or antiviral drugs.
However, according to the CDC, some people are more likely to have complications from the flu – namely, young children, people 65 and older, women who are pregnant and people with asthma or diabetes. It’s also possible, though more rare, for healthy people to develop severe illness from the flu, so the CDC recommends that anyone concerned about their illness should consult a health care provider.
Perhaps the most important step you can take to prevent the flu is to receive a flu vaccination. In fact, the CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine as the first and most important step in protecting against flu viruses. And contrary to what some may think, the vaccine does not contain a live active virus, so you cannot get the flu from the vaccine.
Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania, like many other insurers, strongly encourages our members to receive a vaccination because it’s the best way to keep yourself, and our community, healthy during flu season.
For more information on where to find a flu vaccine location near you, visit www.flu.gov or contact the Pennsylvania Department of Health toll-free at 1-877-PA-HEALTH.
Dr. Lesitsky is a board certified family practice physician with more than 20 years of experience, and is an associate medical director for Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania.