Flu Prevention: Get vaccinated and follow good health habits

Three people have died in North Carolina after testing positive for the flu, the first of the season in our state. Even though it’s December, there’s still time to take steps to prevent the illness before it arrives. The single best way to prevent seasonal flu is to get vaccinated each year.

Flu season can last as late as May so getting vaccinated now could still be beneficial. About two weeks after vaccination, antibodies that provide protection against the influenza viruses in the vaccine develop in the body.

Flu vaccines are offered in many locations, including doctor’s offices, clinics, health departments, pharmacies and college health centers, employers and even in some schools.

While public health officials say the number of flu cases has been low so far, individuals most at-risk are children under age 2, pregnant women and people with chronic medical conditions such as asthma or immune system problems.

Good health habits like covering your cough and washing your hands often can help stop the spread of germs and prevent respiratory illnesses like the flu. There also are flu antiviral drugs that can be used to treat and prevent the flu. A new study reported in The Lancet confirms the benefits of starting flu antivirals even beyond two days after illness starts.

In addition to getting the flu shot, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offer six good health habits to follow:

1. Avoid close contact. Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.

2. Stay home when you are sick. If possible, stay home from work, school, and errands when you are sick. You will help prevent others from catching your illness.

3. Cover your mouth and nose. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. It may prevent those around you from getting sick.

4. Clean your hands. Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.

5. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth.

6. Practice other good health habits. Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work or school, especially when someone is ill. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.

If you haven’t done it, now’s the time to get your flu shot. Once vaccinated, you can enjoy this holiday season knowing that you have taken the single best step to protect yourself and your loved ones against the flu.

National Influenza Vaccination Week is Dec. 8-14. For more information, visit: www.cdc.gov.