Flu season approaching; get vaccinated now | Dr. Petter

Flu season in the United States is October through April. Every year 5-to-20 percent of our population contracts the flu. Fortunately, for the most part, this illness is preventable.

Flu season in the United States is October through April. Every year 5-to-20 percent of our population contracts the flu. Fortunately, for the most part, this illness is preventable.

The flu is an extremely contagious respiratory illness. The incubation period (exposure to onset of symptoms) for the flu is short, one to two days. Symptoms of the flu are unlike those of a common cold, which are yet annoying but mild.

In contrast, the flu is truly miserable and unmistakable. Symptoms often encompass the entire body: fever, chills, muscle/joint aches, fatigue, diarrhea, headache, sore throat, and/or cough. Typically, symptoms last for 2 to 10 days. A person is considered contagious until both symptoms and fever have been gone for 24 hours.

The best defense against the flu is getting vaccinated. Typically, the vaccine is reformulated every year in anticipation of the most common viruses that will cross the globe. The vaccine contains viral strains from influenza A, and influenza B.

Now is the time to get vaccinated. It takes about two weeks for the body to develop protection (antibodies) once you receive the vaccine. The vaccine potency only last for approximately 4 to 6 months, thereafter it loses its effectiveness.

Who should receive the vaccine? It is recommended for those 6 months and older, especially women who are pregnant, people over the age of 50, and individuals with chronic medical conditions (i.e., heart disease, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).

There are two common formulations of the flu vaccine: shot and nasal-spray. The nasal-spray is available for those who are needle-phobic, healthy individuals ages 2 to 49, and not pregnant.

Cost of the vaccine ranges from $15 to $35. The vaccine is certainly cheaper than potentially missing a few days or a week off from work. The vaccine is available at most doctor offices, clinics and at selected pharmacies throughout the country.

Receiving the vaccine is a not a 100-percent guarantee you won’t get the flu. Therefore, here are more tips to help decrease your chance of contracting this seasonal illness – “The Don’t Touch Rules.”

1. Don’t touch your face.

The flu virus is not absorbed through the skin. Rather, the virus can live outside of the body and on surfaces (i.e., door knobs, light switches, counter tops) for up to 48 hours. You can pick up the virus on your hands and inoculate yourself by then touching your nose, mouth, or eyes. Therefore, keep your hands away from your face.

2. Don’t share your cough.

Cover-up when you cough or sneeze. The virus can easily become aerosolized and travel through the air. A sneeze can travel more than 100 miles per hour and releases up to 40,000 contaminated droplets. The “hang-time” in the air of the smallest infected droplets is influenced by humidity and the sunlight. The lower humidity and shorter daylight hours support the survival of the flu virus during the fall and winter.

Simply remember: “Use a tissue or a sleeve, when you cough or when you sneeze.”

3. Don’t touch or re-use a tissue.

The virus can survive on a dry tissue for up to 15 minutes; mixed with mucous, for several days. Therefore, use a tissue once and then toss it away.

4. Don’t touch hands.

When possible, avoid shaking hands during the flu season. Hands are one of the greatest sources of transmitting infection. The virus can survive on skin for five minutes.

Wash hands frequently and thoroughly throughout the day. If you do not have access to soap and running water, alcohol based hand sanitizers (containing at least 60-percent alcohol), like Purell, work well. The virus can be inactivated by many products including soaps, detergents, and various disinfectants.

5. Don’t touch others when sick.

If you are sick, stay home. Directly having an infected person cough or sneeze in close proximity is a sure way to exponentially increase your chance of contracting the flu.

6. Don’t share personal items.

When sick, do not share personal items with others such utensils, glasses, toothbrushes and towels.

Dr. Linda Petter of Auburn is a weekly feature on KOMO TV/News Radio in Seattle (1000 AM and 97.7 FM) every Saturday live at 7:45 a.m. and Sunday 7:45 a.m. and 9:45 a.m. She trained at the Mayo Clinic and the University of Illinois, Carle Hospital. Dr. Petter is chief of the Department of Family Practice at St. Francis Hospital in Federal Way. She is a consumer healthcare advocate, and author (“Healthcare On a Budget” and “Common Medical Sense”). Please visit www.DocForAll.com, or call our office at 253-568-0841.