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Avoiding the Flu

    Last flu season was an exceptionally bad season. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) classified it as “High Severity” across all age groups – the first time that has happened since they began designating a season’s severity in 2003.

    Despite getting flu shots and regular sanitizing in our offices, many of our staff succumbed to one, or both, of the virus strains that proliferated throughout the country. I was one of them. In fact, according to provisional reports published by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, there were 135,289 reported flu cases, 4,497 hospitalizations, and 272 influenza-related deaths in South Carolina between Oct. 1, 2017, and June 2, 2018.

    Was is worth getting a flu shot even though I still got sick? Absolutely – and I plan to get the vaccine again this year to protect not only my health, but also the health of my coworkers, friends, and family. After all, even being in general good health won’t prevent contracting the flu and I work in a community health center. It’s the very place where many people with the flu come to seek relief from their symptoms. That exposes me to the virus much more often than typical.

    Dr. Michael K. Foxworth, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist and pediatrician at the HopeHealth Medical Plaza in Florence said the best way to prevent getting the flu is to get the influenza vaccine. Last season’s vaccine reduced the risk of contracting the virus by about 36 percent, according to the CDC. And, while data for the 2017-2018 season is not yet published, estimates for the previous season indicate that flu vaccines prevented 5.29 million illnesses, 2.64 million medical visits, and 84,700 flu-related hospitalizations.

    Additionally, a study published in the May, 2017, Clinical Infectious Diseases journal indicates that if you do get the flu, the vaccination may reduce the severity of its symptoms. The same study also indicates that unvaccinated adults are two to five times more likely to die from influenza than someone vaccinated.

    This year’s flu season starts soon. In the U.S., it begins in October (occasionally earlier) and can last through May. Most often, the peak month of infection is February, followed by December, January, and March. Since it typically takes about two weeks after vaccination for your body to develop sufficient antibodies to protect against the virus, getting your flu shot early is important. Dr. Julio Arroyo, an infectious diseases specialist also at the HopeHealth Medical Plaza, said the sooner you get the flu vaccine, the better. It is the most effective way to prevent the flu and is recommended annually for everyone age 6 months and older with rare exceptions.

    Was there anything else I could have done to prevent getting the flu last year? Probably not. Dr. Arroyo notes that most people contract the flu from their family members and both Drs. Arroyo and Foxworth recommend avoiding large gatherings and those who have the flu as measures to reduce your risk this season. If you can’t, other measures you can take include wearing a mask and common-sense actions such as washing your hands properly and frequently, avoiding touching your face, eating well-balanced nutritional meals, and drinking plenty of water.

    If you do get the flu, the best thing you can do is stay home to prevent passing the virus to coworkers and others, and rest. If you must leave, to get medical care for example, wear a face mask to prevent passing the flu to others.

    Flu typically causes symptoms such as fever and muscle aches, but can also develop serious complications such as pneumonia, especially for those at higher risk, including young children, people 65 and older, pregnant women, and people with certain medical conditions. If you are in a high risk group and develop flu symptoms, contact your primary care doctor for advice and possible antiviral treatment.

Those at risk for developing complications from the flu include:

· Children aged 6 months through 4 years

· People aged 50 years and older

· People with certain chronic conditions

· People who are immunosuppressed

·  Women who are or will be pregnant during the influenza season

· Nursing home and other chronic-care facility residents

· People with extreme obesity

· Health care personnel

To become a HopeHealth patient or to learn more about classes offered, visit hope-health.org or call (843) 667-9414.

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