As temperatures begin to dip, and more of us are spending added time indoors, the likelihood of catching a cold — or worse, the flu — is pretty good.
Unlike a stomach bug, the flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat and sometimes the lungs. It can cause mild to severe illness, and, in some cases, can lead to death.
Health experts say the best way to prevent the flu is by getting a flu vaccine each year. According to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, flu vaccinations should be received by the end of October, if possible. But as long as the viruses are circulating and unexpired flu vaccine is available, they say, then vaccinations should still be administered.
But local experts say there’s still time to improve your chances of not falling victim to the flu.
JoAnna Bishop, a spokeswoman for AdventHealth Ottawa, said the hospital isn’t currently seeing influenza at this time, and only one case has been diagnosed so far. Health providers usually begin seeing an increase in flu activity in December, she said.
Currently, the hospital only offers the flu vaccine to inpatients and staff, not to the general public.
“We recommend that the public go to the health department, a physician’s office, Walgreens or Walmart,” she said. “All of these organizations offer flu vaccines for the general public, and we encourage people ages 6 months and older to get the vaccine.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there was no flu activity in Kansas until mid-October, and then it was considered sporadic. Last year, influenza cases started to spike in January, reaching their highest point in February. But by late-March, flu activity began decreasing significantly as the weather improved.
Midge Ransom, Franklin County Health Department director, said her clinic is offering free vaccinations until Thanksgiving for those still needing their shots.
“We have a good supply,” Ransom said. “We always try to assure vaccine is available for everyone regardless of ability to pay.”
Ransom said she’s continued seeing a steady number of residents getting vaccinated. Earlier this fall, her department was especially busy since other health care providers did not have any vaccine available because of manufacturer delays.
The flu vaccine is produced by private manufacturers, so the annual supply often depends on those companies. CDC officials said vaccine manufacturers projected they will supply as many as 162 million to 169 million doses of influenza vaccine for the 2019-2020 season.
While the vaccine comes in other forms, such as a nasal spray, Ransom said the health department only offers it in injection form. However, the clinic offers the vaccine in a standard dose and a higher dose. Ransom said an even higher-dose vaccine is also available. That version is often reserved for certain high-risk individuals, including the elderly.
While the most important step to preventing the flu is to get a flu vaccine each year, the vaccine has been shown to reduce flu-related illnesses and serious complications. Here are some other ways to prevent the flu:
• Try to avoid close contact with sick people. Persons confirmed to have influenza are required to stay home for seven days following onset of symptoms, state officials said. Individuals with influenza are considered infectious for five to seven days after becoming sick.
• If sick with other respiratory illnesses, stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone (without using fever-reducing medicine).
• Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
• Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective when soap and water is unavailable.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.
• Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs like the flu.