At-home steps to prevent the spread of the flu may sound harsh, but the current strains sweeping the nation are killers.
Health care provider visits for the flu and influenza-like illness (ILI) symptoms are above normal and 29 states and New York City are reporting high ILI activity, the CDC says.
Forty-one states reported widespread geographic influenza activity for the week of December 23-29, 2012, an increase from 31 states the previous week.
Forget the myths and fears about vaccines giving you the flu, prolonged pain or soreness from a needle prick (you can take the mist version up your nose), the vaccine being useless and other fear-based excuses for not getting vaccinated.
Medical professionals from virtually every medical trade association say a flu vaccine is your best line of defense.
And it's not too late, provided you aren't already ill.
The strains of flu reaching epidemic proportions are influenza A (H3N2), 2009 influenza A (H1N1), and influenza B viruses - nasty buggers all.
However, the CDC says the current vaccine contains protection against those strains.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommended to the CDC and other health agencies that the Northern Hemisphere's 2012-2013 seasonal influenza vaccine is made from the following three vaccine viruses:
- An A/California/7/2009 (H1N1)pdm09-like virus.
- An A/Victoria/361/2011 (H3N2)-like virus.
- A B/Wisconsin/1/2010-like virus (from the B/Yamagata lineage of viruses).
CDC says "While the H1N1 virus used to make the 2012-2013 flu vaccine is the same virus that was included in the 2011-2012 vaccine, the recommended influenza H3N2 and B vaccine viruses are different from those in the 2011-2012 influenza vaccine for the Northern Hemisphere."
Give the vaccination some help
That means getting a flu vaccination is better than not, but no vaccine is fool proof. New influenza strains and variants pop up often.
Most susceptible to the flu and its complications are younger children, those 65 years and older, pregnant women, those with compromised immune systems or chronic illnesses and others in poor medical or physical health. Children younger than 6 months are too young to be vaccinated. People who care for them, others in at-risk groups and those who are ill should be vaccinated.
Even if you are vaccinated, preventing the spread of the flu remains paramount.
There are simple steps you can take at home to minimize contagion and prevent the spread of the flu if someone comes down with it.
The CDC advises:
- Stay home from work if you catch the flu.
- Don't just stay at home, quarantine yourself to your room. Pack in some fun - your social networking devices, a flat screen TV, DVD player, reading materials, even a small fridge with lots of liquids - but stay put. (We told you it would sound harsh.)
- You are in your room to avoid close contact with other members of your family, who you don't want to get sick. If you have to leave your room, keep your distance and don't linger. You need your rest.
- Clean up after yourself, as well as you can. Wipe down doorknobs, bathroom fixtures and other surfaces you touch. Use disposable paper towels.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Wash your hands with hot soap and water or an alcohol-based wipe or hand rub, for as long as it takes to sing the "Happy Birthday" song - twice.
Germs are most often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth.
- Get plenty of sleep, drink plenty of fluids and eat good, nutritious food. Also, make an effort to be physically active. Leave your room to get outside for some fresh air and maybe a stroll around the block or two when everyone else is at work or school.
- When you cough or sneeze, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue. Airborne flu viruses can be contagious. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it and empty the trash outside in the garbage frequently.
- If you are assisting someone who is ill, help keep surfaces like bedside tables, surfaces in the bathroom, kitchen counters and toys for children clean by wiping them down with a household disinfectant according to directions on the product label. Wash your hands as instructed above.