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A simple step can help keep flu at bay, Oaklawn infection preventionist cautions

“Get vaccinated,” said John Vercher, infection preventionist at Oaklawn Hospital.

“Everyone 6 months of age or older should get the flu vaccine as soon as it is available,” Vercher said. “Influenza is a potentially life-threatening illness that even healthy young people should be concerned about.”

While vaccination against the contagious respiratory illness isn’t a guarantee against contracting one of its varied forms, a precautionary anti-flu shot is the strongest step one can take to keep from getting the season’s most prevalent strain of the illness, including H1N1, Vercher said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in past flu seasons when the match between flu vaccine and circulating strains of flu virus has been close, a flu shot is between 60 and 70 percent effective in warding off influenza in all age groups combined, Vercher said.

“The more individuals who get vaccinated, the more effective the vaccine will be in creating ‘herd immunity’ and preventing the effective spread of the virus,” he said.

Medical observers in the Marshall region haven’t reported any significant “spikes” in flu-related reports compared to past years. However, there’s plenty of flu season left on the calendar and the activity could always increase.

Seasonal flu activity usually peaks in January or February, but it can occur as early as October and as late as May, Vercher said.

It’s still wise to take proper precautions against contracting the illness, and any patient at Oaklawn found to have the flu is isolated from unnecessary contact with others, he said. The same step makes sense if you suspect that you or others have the flu – steer clear from contact, Vercher said.

“Most experts believe that you get the flu when a person with the flu coughs, sneezes or talks and droplets containing their germs land in your mouth or nose,” Vercher said. “You can also get the flu by touching a surface or object that has the flu virus on it and then touching your mouth, eyes, or nose.”

Vercher advised frequent and thorough hand-washing to minimize one’s chances of contracting the illness in this way.

“Wash your hands often with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub,” he said. “Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.”

Vercher also advised that people should practice good general health habits, such as getting plenty of sleep and exercise, managing stress, drinking plenty of fluids and eating healthy food.

“Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze,” he said. “Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it. If you are sick with flu-like illness, stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone without the use of fever-reducing medicine.”

Despite one’s best efforts, it’s still possible that one might be infected. In that case, note your symptoms. While not everyone who contracts flu becomes feverish, a fever of 100 degrees F. or higher is an indication that one might have the flu, Percher said.

Other symptoms include a cough and/or sore throat, a runny or stuffy nose, headache or other body aches, chills, fatigue, nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea (most common in children), he said.

Because the flu and the common cold have similar symptoms, it can be difficult to tell the difference between them, Vercher said.

“Your health-care provider can give you a test within the first few days of your illness to determine whether or not you have the flu,” he said.