Clearly the flu season has hit us. Just a reminder – the flu vaccine is the most effective way to prevent flu. Next would be careful, thorough and frequent hand-washing. Third is wearing a mask. I have been asking people who are not feeling well to wear a mask, to minimize the spread of viruses and germs, but they may be worn as a preventative measure as well.
A University of Michigan study involving more than 1,000 students living in residence halls showed that those who wore masks in residence halls and practiced good handwashing reduced their risk of flu-like illness by 35 to 51 percent.
Here are some guidelines for proper mask-wearing:
- Wear a facemask when coming within six feet of a sick person.
- Position the strings to keep the mask firmly in place over the nose, mouth, and chin. Try not to touch the mask again until you remove it.
- Wear a facemask before going near other people if you have the flu.
- If you have the flu and need to see the doctor, wear a facemask to protect others in the waiting area.
- Consider wearing a mask in crowded settings if the flu is widespread in your community or if you are at high risk for flu complications.
Wash your hands often with water, preferably soap and water. If water is not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub with at least 60% alcohol. Note: ethanol-based disinfectants or hand sanitizers have be in contact for at least 4 minutes with the influenza A virus – one of the most common flu strains – before killing it, a much longer duration than typical use. For more information, read the CIDRAP 9/19/2019 Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy article.
Seniors who receive the flu vaccine should explicitly ask which vaccine they are receiving. The Fluzone and Fluad vaccines – the stronger vaccines for seniors – are in short supply. Some people have received the regular vaccine instead of the four-times stronger senior vaccine without having been informed that they received the regular vaccine.
When treatment is started within two days of becoming sick with flu symptoms, antiviral drugs can lessen fever and flu symptoms, and shorten the time you are sick by about one day. They also may reduce the risk of complications such as ear infections in children, respiratory complications requiring antibiotics, and hospitalization in adults. For people at high risk of serious flu complications, early treatment with an antiviral drug can mean having milder illness instead of more severe illness that might require a hospital stay. For adults hospitalized with flu illness, some studies have reported that early antiviral treatment can reduce their risk of death.
There are a number of factors which increase a person’s risk to flu complications including breathing disorders, heart, kidney and liver issues, and obesity. These people should definitely seek antiviral treatment. Other people in this category include children under the age of 2, pregnant women and people age 65 or older.
People with mild illness who are not at high risk of flu complications may also be treated early with antiviral drugs by their doctor. However, most people who are otherwise healthy and get flu do not need to be treated with antiviral drugs.