Prevention Urged as Flu Season Arrives

thumb_01992e16c7428ccWhile autumn is often associated with pumpkin spice lattes, football and fall foliage, it also marks the start of influenza season.

The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by the flu virus and typically lasts one to two weeks. Flu season in the Ozarks typically runs October 1 through March 31 and Michelle Raab, RN, Infection Preventionist at Cox Medical Center Branson, said immunization is a person’s best line of defense against the virus.

“The flu is a very serious illness,” Raab said. “Influenza can be a precursor for some very serious respiratory illnesses including pneumonia and bronchitis. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is estimated that between 5 to 20 percent ofU.S.residents get the flu, and it is estimated that more than 200,000 people are hospitalized on average each year for flu-related complications. Over a period of 30 years, between 1976 and 2006, estimates of flu-associated deaths in theUnited Statesrange from a low of about 3,000 to a high of about 49,000 people.”

While flu seasons vary in severity and peak, Raab said this flu season’s peak could come early. Last week, Cox Medical Center Branson had its first confirmed influenza case of the season, which Raab said is unusual to have this early in the year.

The best protection against the seasonal flu is the flu vaccine which is available in two forms – a flu shot or nasal mist. The CDC recommends everyone 6 months and older be vaccinated against the flu every year and that people be vaccinated as soon as the vaccine is available in their area. It takes approximately two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection against an influenza virus infection.

According to the CDC, a study conducted during the 2011-2012 flu season found that flu vaccination was associated with a 71 percent reduction in flu-related hospitalizations among adults of all ages and a 77 percent reduction among adults 50 years of age or older.

Getting protected against the flu is as easy as visiting a primary care provider. CoxHealth has received a large supply of vaccines. Patients may schedule an appointment with their primary care physician to be vaccinated or if a visit is already scheduled in the next month, ask to be vaccinated at that time, Raab suggested.

Anyone with questions about the vaccine is encouraged to contact their primary care provider.

While the best protection against the flu is the flu vaccine, Raab encourages everyone to continue to use daily prevention habits as flu season arrives.

“Frequent hand washing is a great way for people to protect themselves and others against the flu,” Raab said. “People should also avoid close contact with anyone who is sick as well as continue those good health habits of getting plenty of sleep and exercise, drinking plenty of fluids and eating healthy foods.”

Most healthy adults may be able to infect other people beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to five to seven days after becoming sick. Children may pass the virus for longer than seven days. Symptoms start one to four days after the virus enters the body.

People should refrain from going to work, school, church or close public areas when they are symptomatic with a severe respiratory illness and/or have a fever.

“We ask anyone with respiratory symptoms to wear a mask or cover their cough in any public place and in the waiting rooms of doctor offices, urgent care or emergency department,” Raab said.

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