Saturday, March 24, 2018

Healthy Habits: Lessons learned from a busy flu season - It’s never too early to start planning for next year

By: Jane Trombetta, RN, MSN
Vice President of Quality, MedExpress

Despite the fact that flu season comes around every year, the highly contagious respiratory virus still catches many parents and families off guard and unprepared – and the 2017-2018 flu season was no different. In fact, this year’s flu season is being hailed as one of the most active in recent years, with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reporting widespread illness across the country for most of the season. 

There is good news for families, though. Across its nearly 250 centers in 19 states, MedExpress Urgent Care has seen a 21 percent decrease in visits related to flu and influenza-like illness (ILI) in recent weeks. This marks the first decline in MedExpress ILI visits since this flu season began last fall – and is the first sign that perhaps the worst of this busy flu season may be behind us. 

It’s important to note, however, that the timing of flu is very unpredictable and can vary in different parts of the country and from season to season. It’s still possible to catch – and spread – the flu, so families should continue to practice healthy habits and take preventative measures, like washing your hands, remembering to cough and sneeze into your elbow or a tissue, and disinfecting shared surfaces. And remember, even if your family has already had the flu this year, you may not be completely out of the woods. There are multiple strains of the flu circulating at once, and while it’s rare, it is possible to become infected with a few different flu strains in the same season. As the peak flu season winds down, remember that influenza viruses circulate in the community year-round. 

So as we begin to recover from this year’s flu season, it’s never too early to start thinking about next year. Remember these lessons learned to help keep you and your family healthy and flu-free.

  • Don’t wait to get vaccinated – Getting your flu shot early is always a good idea; people most commonly choose to get vaccinated in early fall. The sooner you get the flu shot, the better, as it can take two weeks for the body’s immune system to develop the antibodies to protect against the virus. It’s especially important for pregnant women, children, and the elderly to protect themselves, but the CDC recommends that anyone ages six months or older get vaccinated. The more people who protect against flu, the less flu in general – which is good for everyone. Each year, the flu strains matched in the flu shot vary, so it’s important to get one every year. 
  • Wash your hands – This simple activity goes a long way, especially in preventing illness in children. Wash your hands with warm water and antibacterial soap frequently throughout the day, especially after being in public places or before eating. Alcohol-based hand sanitizer is a good option when soap and water is not handy, provided there is supervision for use with children.
  • Teach proper sneezing etiquette – There is such a thing as a proper way to sneeze. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends teaching kids to sneeze into the nook of their elbow to prevent the spread of germs or use a tissue when available. 
  • Eat well – A well-balanced diet filled with plant-based food, lean protein and whole grains is one of the most important steps toward maintaining overall health.
  • Stay home if you’re not feeling well – If you or a family member comes down with flu symptoms, stay home from school or work. Those who contract the flu are most contagious one day before and up to 7 days after developing symptoms, so if you feel under the weather, stay home. 

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