January 19, 2013 7:52:07 PM
With many states -- including Mississippi -- reporting high levels of flu-like illnesses, those who've avoided it so far can take steps to protect against the flu's onslaught. Even if you've had the flu this season, there still are steps you should take, said a nurse practitioner educator at Mississippi University for Women.
"The very best way to avoid the flu is to get the flu vaccine," said Terri Hamill, Family Nurse Practitioner in MUW's master's of nursing program. "It's not too late to get the vaccine, but you may need to call and check on availability," she said.
Because there are a number of flu strains, she said that even those who've had the flu should consider taking the vaccine, and with flu season possible as late as May, it's a good precaution against future illness.
But the vaccine results are not immediate, Hamill said. "It takes approximately two weeks after the vaccine to develop antibodies for flu protection." Meanwhile, she suggests common-sense health habits such as frequent hand-washing; avoiding touching eyes, nose or mouth; covering your mouth or nose if you cough or sneeze; and disinfecting surfaces at home, work or school.
"If you have a temperature, you should stay at home," she advised. "It's best to stay there for at least 24 hours after your temperature is normal without using a fever-reducing medicine."
While you may feel miserable with a common cold, there are several symptoms that distinguish the flu, Hamill said. "With the flu, there's the sudden onset of fever lasting three or four days, headache, fatigue that may be severe, muscle aches and pains that may be severe, stuffy nose, sore through, chest discomfort, and coughing." The flu also can lead to serious complications such as pneumonia and respiratory failure.
A cold, by contrast, has a more gradual onset, Hamill said, and fever and headache with a cold are rare. "It is common to have a runny, stuffy nose, sneezing, sore throat, and mild chest discomfort and coughing." Possible complications from a cold are sinus congestion or infection and earache.
If you do get the flu, Hamill advised it is best to stay home and follow your healthcare provider's recommendations about antivirals and treatments. "These may include rest; drinking plenty of clear fluids to avoid dehydration; a humidifier to help with breathing; warm, salty water gargles for sore throat; and warm blankets for chills." Antivirals such as Tamiflu, taken within 48 hours of getting sick, can help speed recovery.
For more information about the flu, go to cdc.gov/flu/about/season/flu-season-2012-2013.htm.