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Five Helpful Tips to Get Through Flu Season

Photo of patient receiving a flu shot
Photo courtesy J.D. Strong/USAF/Wikimedia Commons

Another worse-than-anticipated flu season is plaguing the U.S. and Kentucky during 2019-20.

Dr. Brent Wright, the Associate Dean for Rural Health Innovation at the University of Louisville School of Medicine and the 2019-20 president of the Kentucky Medical Association, appeared on KET’s Kentucky Health last year to discuss the importance of persons getting their annual influenza vaccine and offer other tips to ward off the flu. 

Here are some handy best practices to follow to help get through another difficult flu season:

1) Get the latest flu vaccine, even if months have passed since the start of flu season.

The influenza vaccine reduces your risk of catching the flu by 40 to 60 percent, Wright says. But he adds that only 38 percent of Kentucky adults and 43 percent of children in the commonwealth get the annual shot.

It’s general practice to start annual flu immunizations during September or October, Wright says, as they’re designed to fight what medical researchers at the Centers for Disease Control believe will be that year’s particular mutation. Still, he adds that flu season can run through May, and the CDC advocates that getting vaccinated during the mid-winter months can still be beneficial – better late than never.

“It would be wonderful if the flu’s the flu, and we get one shot, and we have immunity to the flu ongoing, but we have to do it year after year, because it mutates and shows a different picture,” Wright says.

Wright explains that certain well-held beliefs about the influenza vaccine – especially believing that getting the vaccine will actually give a person the flu – are unfounded.

“You don’t get the flu with the flu shot,” he says. “Think about anything that you prepare for – let’s say you’re training for an athletic event. When you train for that, you’re going to be sore, your body’s going to feel it. When you take the flu shot, that flu shot’s there to get your body ready to fight the flu when it’s exposed to the flu virus.”

Wright concedes that sometimes a person who gets vaccinated will still get the flu. That happens due to the influenza virus mutating and becoming resistant to the current vaccine. Still, Wright says that getting vaccinated gives you the best odds of avoiding the disease each year.

2) Stay clear of other people who have the flu.

Wright says that the flu is “designed brilliantly to spread.” People with the disease are highly infectious, and those who don’t have it must avoid all contact with people who do. Flu is easily aerosolized and transmitted through the atmosphere by sneezing and coughing.

Anyone who is diagnosed with the flu should stay home from work or school for a week.

“If you don’t have the flu, we want to make sure that you’re being careful of those that you know that may have the flu,” Wright says. This advice is especially important for older patients or parents of infants to follow, he adds.

Dr. Brent Wright

3) Be aware of who and what you’re touching, and wash your hands often, especially after touching high-traffic surfaces. 

A purist might refrain from shaking hands, or replacing the standard formal greeting with a fist bump during flu season. Wright prefers the fist bump, and overall preaches a heightened level of caution when interacting with others.

“I think in flu season you need to be careful about how you touch your face,” he says. “Because you could be inoculating yourself in your eyes and your mouth, anywhere around your face. It’s a respiratory virus – flu’s going to love all areas of the face, it’s a great way for it to get going.”

Populated areas, especially medical facilities and pharmacies, should set off higher alarm levels of wariness during flu season, Wright adds. “Be careful, use common sense,” he advises. “Hand sanitizers are easy to get to now.”

4) Lead a healthy lifestyle to strengthen your immune system.

“If you affect your immune system, you’re going to make yourself more susceptible to respiratory illnesses such as the flu,” Wright says.

Following a nutritious diet, exercising regularly, refraining from tobacco use are all tips that can be proactively applied to reduce the risk of getting virtually the entire spectrum of medical ailments, and they apply for the flu as well.

5) Visit the doctor to obtain prescription medication. 

If you do come down with flulike symptoms, take over-the-counter medications such as anti-inflammatory drugs to alleviate symptoms in the short term, but go to your family doctor or to an urgent care clinic to get fully diagnosed and receive prescription drugs that attack the flu virus.

Prescription medications are “tolerated well, but they do have side effects,” Wright says. “However, within two days of getting symptoms and feeling like you have the flu, we need to start you on that medication… You’re not going to see much benefitin time reduction if you wait after that 48-hour window.”

Wright adds that if you are older and/or are struggling with chronic diseases, getting the flu is much more serious, and you should not hesitate going to the emergency room if flu symptoms arise and are severe.

Watch the entire Kentucky Health episode with Dr. Wright.