Flu season is back in the Pacific Northwest and hitting us with a big punch in the collective gut and we’re not at the peak yet. At Virginia Mason, we are seeing many patients with moderate to severe illness. Public Health – Seattle & King County says younger adults face a greater risk of severe illness from the flu than usual. The predominant strain circulating currently is influenza A pH1N1, which is the same one that led to the 2009 flu pandemic. If this virus behaves like it did in 2009, it will cause infections and severe illness in all ages, but compared to other influenza strains, it may cause higher rates of illness among young and middle-age adults. While most deaths have so far been seen in those with risk factors for severe influenza, some have not.
So, what’s the best way to avoid the flu besides locking yourself in a safe room for the next several months? That’s right: Getting the flu immunization.
“The goal of the flu shot is to keep from getting sick. The sooner you get it the better. It takes about two weeks to become effective, so go now if you haven’t received your shot,” explains Chris Baliga, MD, medical director of Infection Prevention and Control at Virginia Mason. “And even if it doesn’t keep you from getting sick, it should keep you from getting as sick as you would have without.”
Getting immunized offers your best bet against the flu, but it is still possible for some unlucky people to get ill even after getting the flu shot. This may be because they were exposed to the flu virus before or during the two weeks it takes to get full immunity. And some people, such as those with chronic illnesses, may develop less immunity after receiving the immunization.
But wait – don’t jump back into the safe room just yet. There is another way to avoid the flu. What is it? It’s so simple: frequent hand washing. Wash your hands and wash them often.
“Hand hygiene is important because it’s one of the biggest ways you can prevent the flu and other illnesses. Washing your hands frequently is the best advice for preventing almost anything,” says Dr. Baliga. “It’s such a basic thing, but so important. If you had to pick one thing to prevent spreading any virus: Wash your hands.”
Keep alcohol-based hand sanitizer with you for occasions when soap and water are not available. It’s good to keep some at your desk, in your car and in your pocket or purse. In addition, follow these tips to help hand sanitizer do its best job:
- Apply hand sanitizer to all surfaces, including fingertips.
- Allow your hands to dry before touching surfaces.
- Do not use if your hands are visibly soiled.
- Do not use after use of the restroom or after changing diapers; wash with soap and water instead.
- Do not use in food prep and food service; wash with soap and water.
- Use frequently especially during this flu season.
Remember that hand sanitizer is good, but washing with soap and water is better.
Other favorite flu avoidance tips include avoiding close contact with people who are sick; keeping surfaces at home, work and school clean and disinfected; and avoiding touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
So shut the safe room door and save it for the zombie apocalypse. With being immunized and a frequent hand washer, you should get through this ferocious flu season unscathed.