Flu activity is currently low in Georgia, but it often spikes in late November or early December.
That means now is the time to take precautions to prevent getting the contagious virus infection often associated with a high fever and body aches making you so exhausted and sick you have no choice but to stay in bed.
The 2016-2017 flu season was considered to be moderate in severity, although 101 children died from infections related to seasonal influenza, and many more were hospitalized, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Dr. Andi Shane, associate professor of pediatric infectious disease and global health at Emory University of School of Medicine and medical director of hospital epidemiology at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta said the vaccine for the 2017-2018 flu season is predicted to be a good match to the circulating strains based on experience in the southern hemisphere. However, flu viruses can be unpredictable.
The Georgia Department of Health believes it’s too early to know for sure whether this year’s vaccine will be a good match.
Last year's seasonal flu vaccine effectiveness was only 42 percent, according the CDC. The limited effectiveness was due to a mutation that occurred in the influenza A (H3N2) vaccine strain, according to a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. This vaccine mutation resulted from an egg-based manufacturing process commonly used today.
But even if the vaccine is not a perfect match, experts say the vaccine can still help lessen the severity of the flu, and reduce the chance of experiencing severe complications from the flu. Getting a vaccine can also reduce the length of the flu if you do get sick.
Thanksgiving is two weeks away, and the holiday typically kicks off a time of family gatherings and parties where people are in close proximity to each other. It takes about two weeks for a flu shot to provide protection, so now is the perfect time to get one – before flu activity increases, according to experts.
“The single most effective way to prevent the flu is the flu vaccine. Every healthy individual over the age of 6 months should get a flu vaccine, unless there are underlying medical conditions. In those cases, patients should consult their physician,” said Dr. J. Patrick O’Neal, commissioner at the Georgia Department of Public Health. “The holidays bring gatherings with family and friends and increase the likelihood of spreading the flu. Now is the time to get vaccinated.”
Dr. O’Neal said if you do get sick and think you may have the flu, contact your health care provider right away. There are antivirals such as Tamiflu or Relenza which can help treat the flu, but the medication needs to be taken within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms to be effective.
Dr. Shane provides her key strategies for flu prevention:
— Get a seasonal flu immunization now before flu season hits. Everyone 6 months of age and older needs a seasonal flu vaccine every year. It takes two weeks to develop protection, so it is important to be immunized before the flu starts circulating in the community. Some children younger than 8 years of age will need 2 doses of flu vaccine spaced one month apart to be fully protected if this is their first year to get a flu vaccine.
— Encourage everyone around you to receive a flu immunization. Encouraging immunization of everyone around you helps protect them and helps to protect you.
— If you are sick, stay away from others. The flu is spread by droplets. Reducing opportunity for physical contact reduces opportunities for the flu to be spread.
— Wash your hands. Practice good hand hygiene —- wash your hands with soap and water or a hand sanitizing product liberally —- before and after eating, going to the bathroom, spending time in high-traffic settings such as the mall or airport.
— Cover your cough and sneezes with the inside of your elbow or a tissue that is then discarded. Sneezing into the inside of your elbow or a tissue reduces the chances those droplets (those tiny drops from a sick person) will fly out when you cough or sneeze and land on the mouths or noses of people nearby.
— Take care of yourself. To help your immune system be in good enough shape to fight off the flu and other germs, eat a balanced diet, get plenty of sleep and exercise.
RELATED: 7 ways to stop the spread of the flu
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