The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services approximates that 5-20% of U.S. residents will get the flu. While the flu season is a regular occurrence from the fall till February, getting the flu doesn’t have to be. Neil S. Levy, DO, an osteopathic pediatrician from Bedford, Texas, discusses telltale flu symptoms and provides preventive measures that every family can take to stay healthy this flu season.
Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine, or DOs, look beyond your symptoms to understand how lifestyle and environmental factors affect your wellbeing. They listen and partner with you to help you get healthy and stay well. They also encourage your body’s natural tendency toward self-healing.
Stopping the Spread of the Virus
The flu is a contagious respiratory illness. While most cases are mild, some cases, if left untreated, could lead to complications such as pneumonia, hospitalization and even death. How can you protect yourself and your family? “The first step is to know the signs,” says Dr. Levy.
He encourages everyone to watch for common symptoms such as:
If you experience these symptoms, Dr. Levy recommends you seek prompt medical attention and stay home so you don’t expose others to the illness. According to Dr. Levy, once you become infected with the flu virus, it can take up to a week for symptoms to appear. If you are sick with a flu-like illness, in order to limit spreading the virus to others it is imperative to stay home until you’re well.
To avoid a mini-outbreak in your home or community, Dr. Levy recommends following Centers for Disease Control & Prevention guidelines:
Stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care
While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them
Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
Wash your hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds. Dry hands with a paper towel and use it to turn off the faucet. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth since germs spread this way.
Routinely clean surfaces that are touched often, such as countertops, doorknobs, computer keyboards, faucet handles and phones.
Since it sometimes can be difficult to avoid sick people, how can you reduce your risk of contracting the virus? Dr. Levy recommends a yearly flu vaccine. He encourages everyone 6 months of age and older, especially high risk groups such as young children, pregnant women, seniors and people with chronic health conditions like asthma, diabetes or heart and lung disease, to get the vaccine as soon as it is available. Children younger than 6 months are at high risk for getting the flu, but are too young to get vaccinated. However, parents can still protect them.
“Get vaccinated and make sure that people who are regularly around the infant are vaccinated, too,” stresses Dr. Levy.
What can you do if you’ve been around someone with the flu? According to Dr. Levy, antiviral medications, which come in the form of prescription pills, liquids or inhalers, can be used to treat flu viruses as well as prevent you from getting sick if you’ve been exposed to the virus. These drugs are best used within the first 48 hours of the appearance of flu symptoms, and they may help reduce the severity and duration of symptoms. “If you’ve been prescribed these drugs, take them as directed,” stresses Dr. Levy. “They can speed up your recovery and limit complications.
“And, if you’re one of the people with a high-risk factor, treatment with an antiviral drug can mean the difference between having a mild illness that lasts one or two weeks or a serious one that can result in a hospital stay,” he adds.
A Shot at Safeguarding Your Health
You don’t have to get defeated by the flu if you know the right defense to stay protected. “The flu vaccine is your best protection against the flu,” says Dr. Levy. “Take the time to get the flu shot and make it a priority for your family.
“It is the most important step in protecting against flu viruses and your family’s best shot at staying healthy,” he adds.