The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that flu activity is high in the United States and expected to continue for weeks. The CDC estimates that so far this season there have been at least 6.4 million flu illnesses, 55,000 hospitalizations and 2,900 deaths from flu. HSHS Medical Group clinics have seen more than 200 flu cases across their service area in central and southern Illinois since early November.
“Children, elderly persons, pregnant women and those who are immunocompromised—persons with diabetes, HIV or who have asthma—are especially vulnerable to the harmful effects of the flu and need to be vaccinated,” said Alicia Altheimer, MD, family medicine physician with HSHS Medical Group.
The flu is a very contagious disease caused by the influenza virus, and the illness can be very mild or severe. People who are at high risk for the flu—including older people, young kids, pregnant women and people with specific health problems—can experience complications and end up in the hospital or possibly die. Symptoms of the flu can include: fatigue, fever, headache, dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, sore muscles and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea.
The flu can spread when people who are infected cough, sneeze or speak. When the droplets they produce come in contact with the noses and mouths of people close to them, they can be inhaled. It can also spread when people come in contact with items that have the flu virus on them then touch their eyes, nose or mouth. The best way to prevent the spread of the flu is through a yearly flu vaccination.
HSHS Medical Group encourages patients to take precautions to protect their families from the flu. Here are some tips on how to prevent the flu:
Get your yearly flu shot. It is not too late to get a flu shot. The CDC recommends a flu shot for everyone over six months old. Check with your local physician’s office. Vaccinations are also available at HSHS Medical Group urgent care clinics—to find one near you, visit https://www.hshsmedicalgroup.org/Find-Care/Urgent-Care.aspx.
Wash your hands. Hand washing is one of the best practices you can adopt to keep both colds and the flu from spreading. When soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue. Using a tissue helps keep germs from spreading to yourself and others. If you don’t have a tissue or cloth, cough or sneeze into the inside of your elbow or upper arm.
Stay home if you are feeling sick. If you or your kids get sick, stay home from work or school and limit contact with others to keep from infecting them. Conversely, avoid close contact with anyone who appears to be sick.
Avoid sharing objects such as utensils, cups, bottles and telephones. If you must share, disinfect the objects before using them.
Stay active. Regular exercise, especially vigorous exercise, will keep your body healthy.
Eat more fruits and vegetables. Eating oranges and other vitamin C-rich fruits and vegetables is a great way to support your immune system.
Drink plenty of water. Water simultaneously flushes out your system, rids you of infected germs and rehydrates you. If you already have the flu, make sure you don’t get dehydrated.
Get enough sleep. Getting enough sleep is very important when it comes to assisting your body in fighting off infections. Sleep gives you more strength and helps your body get rid of the virus more quickly.