How to Stay Healthy During Severe Flu Seasons
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), this year’s flu season is ratcheting up early. As of Dec. 19, 2019, its Weekly U.S. Influenza Surveillance Report said “influenza activity has been elevated for five weeks and continues to increase.”
But does any of that mean imminent danger for you and your family? Peter Bidey, DO, MSEd, an osteopathic family physician and Vice Chair of the Department of Family Medicine at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, says that as long as you’ve gotten your yearly flu shot, and are otherwise in good health, the answer is likely no.
“Studies show that people who get the flu vaccine may still get the virus, but they get a much milder case (usually with lesser symptoms), and end up in the hospital less often than people are not vaccinated and get the virus that year,” Dr. Bidey says. “That’s pretty strong data. Those who didn’t get that vaccine generally get sicker than those who do.”
Dr. Bidey adds that, while it is never too late to get a flu shot, ideally patients should get it done before October.
This gives your immune system the ideal conditions to combat the virus at its peak, even if that peak happens to be early, which typically indicates a longer-lasting season.
Aside from your personal health, Dr. Bidey says getting your flu shot will help protect others who are more vulnerable. This is based on a concept called community immunity, or herd immunity. An individual flu shot provides great personal protection, but that protection is stronger when more people around you are vaccinated, as well. This makes flu virus outbreaks less likely to start.
“Generally, we’re concerned about children less than one year old, or less than six months, because they can’t get the flu vaccine,” Dr. Bidey says. “You also have to be mindful of older adults, because they have a higher propensity to have other conditions, like lung problems or a weakened immune system.”
Additional prevention methods to focus on, Dr. Bidey says, are no different than common health practices that should be exercised 365 days a year. These include: washing your hands and using hand sanitizer, coughing into the crook of your arm, staying away from people you don’t want getting sick when you’re sick, eating a good diet with the right nutrients and vitamins, and getting adequate sleep to keep your immune system at the highest level that it can be. Smoking, he adds, can also increase your risk of respiratory infection.
But at the end of the day, it really does all come down to getting the flu vaccine at your earliest convenience, every year.
“If you’re vaccinated, no matter how the flu mutates that year, you have your best chance to stay healthy,” Dr. Bidey says.