A Doctor On How To Prepare For This Year’s Potentially Severe Flu Season

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Regardless of how warm and humid it still is outside, that doesn't mean it's too early to prepare for the most un-wonderful time of the year — flu season. If you're wondering when flu season 2019 starts, it's already upon us. According to a news release from Riverside University Health System in California, a child has died from the flu this season.

While the child reportedly had other health issues that may have made them more susceptible to the flu, Dr. Cameron Kaiser, Riverside County Public Health Officer, said it's an important reminder to protect yourself from influenza, especially if you have a weakened immune system. "We should never forget that the flu still kills," Kaiser said. "I always recommend people get their flu shots every year, but a death so early in the flu season suggests this year may be worse than usual."

What's more, a new report analyzing the past flu season in Australia shows that the 2019-2020 season may be intense in the U.S. Because Australia's winter takes place over our summer, flu activity in the southern hemisphere can sometimes forecast how the flu will impact us come September or October.

“It’s too early to tell for sure, because sometimes Australia is predictive and sometimes it’s not,” Dr. Daniel B. Jernigan, director of the influenza division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told The New York Times. “But the best move is to get the vaccine right now.”

Dr. Niket Sonpal, MD, a New York City-based internist and gastroenterologist and adjunct professor at Touro College, tells Bustle that vaccinations save lives, adding: "A yearly flu shot can help prevent missed days from work or school, prolonged illness, and possible hospitalization for flu-related complications."

I got the flu for the first time in January 2019, and it was absolutely horrible. My fever was so high that the doctor made me drink ice water and put ice packs on my face to bring it down before they allowed me to leave. If this doesn't sound like fun to you, here's how to prepare for flu season.


Get The Flu Shot

I didn't get a flu shot last year, and I got the flu. For more than two weeks I was shaking, freezing but sweating, congested, had a constant headache that led to severe nausea, and I could barely stay awake for more than an hour at a time. If you don't want to experience this special kind of hell, flu shots are already available at many pharmacies.

"Although last year's flu season was less severe than the year before, it was the longest in 10 years. With flu season getting longer, it's even more important to get a flu shot early," Jocelyn Konrad, executive vice president, pharmacy and retail operations, Rite Aid, said in a news release. "Receiving a flu shot remains the best way to protect against the flu and its potentially severe consequences."

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this year's flu vaccine will protect against three to four of the most common influenza strains. Overall, the CDC reported that flu vaccines are between 40-60% effective in reducing the risk of coming down with the flu. Even if you do get the flu after getting a flu vaccine, your symptoms will likely be much more mild than someone who did not get vaccinated.


Protect Your Immune System

Because flu shots are no guarantee you won't get the flu, I've upped my supplement game by adding some immune system boosters to my regimen. Other ways to keep your immune system healthy, according to Harvard Medical School, include eating lost of fruits and veggies, staying active, getting enough sleep, minimizing stress, and washing your hands.


Wash Your Hands

While you should always wash your hands after using the bathroom or being out in public, you're going to want to up your hand-washing game during flu season.

"Our hands have the ability to spread the flu and to contract it. If you are someone who constantly rubs their eyes, bites their nails, or touches their face, washing your hands regularly with soap and water is imperative to ward off the flu," Dr. Sonpal says. "If no soap is available, use an alcohol-based hand gel, or an antibacterial over-the-counter hand rub."


Throw Away Used Tissues ASAP


I am totally guilty of setting a used tissue on my bedside table. But it turns out that leaving used tissues lying around is an easy way to spread germs.

"People who are sick and feel fatigued can get into the habit of using tissues and tossing them to the other side of their bed or couch. Instead, keep a wastebasket by your bed and dispose of tissues immediately," Dr. Sonpal says. "Having those germs circulating your couch or bed can cause the bacteria to keep spreading."


Stay Home If You're Sick

A 2018 study found that you can spread the flu to others just by breathing near them. This means that if you do have the flu, you should stay home. I know this is easier said than done. I've had many jobs with no benefits or sick days. And yes, when I was a bartender, I mixed drinks and served food while sick because I had no choice. Staying home from work meant losing my job. If you do have a job with sick days, use them.

"Medical professionals generally recommend that people suffering flu symptoms, which include fever, stay at home for at least 24 hours after a fever has gone down without the need for fever-reducing medicines. Of course, the exception to this rule is leaving home to go see a doctor," Dr. Sonpal says.

"However, if you have loved ones who are at higher risk to develop serious flu complications caution them to keep their distance and avoid contact when possible. Those at higher risk of extended illness due to flu include young infants, pregnant women, senior citizens (protect grandma at all costs!), and people with chronic ailments such as asthma, anemia, diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, or immunological deficiencies."


Avoid Sick People

While your flu-ridden friend or partner might need help while they're sick, do everything you can to protect yourself while in their presence. "If your loved one is sick, stay away as much as possible or use precaution when dealing with them. Don’t share drinks, don’t sit on their bed, and wash your hands often," Dr. Sonpal says.

"Avoid touching your eyes, nose, ears, or mouth after touching a sick person. Looking after your own health and practicing precaution does not make you selfish, one must care for oneself in order to care for others. Do not kiss your partner if they are displaying symptoms and fever."


Switch Out Your Essentials


Once you feel better, it's easy to forget that your home and everything in it is a germ factory. "Many people recover from the season's first flu episode, only for the sickness to return with more strength. This can happen with greater chance if you forget to change out your essential items such as your toothbrush, towel, and shower tools," Dr. Sonpal explains.

"If you used your toothbrush during your sickness, change it as soon as you notice a decrease in symptoms. Once the symptoms are gone and you have spent 24 hours without a fever, change your toothbrush again. Remember to also change your sheets and wash your clothes to get rid of the germs in your house."


Practice Self-Care

Stress can weaken your immune system, which can put you at greater risk for catching the flu. And once you get the flu, stress can make it worse. "It is so incredibly easy to get stressed out about being sick," Dr. Sonpal says.

"You feel terrible, you may be missing work, you may be avoiding loved ones, you may be stressed about missing the gym or social outings, this can all contribute to fatigue and moodiness that comes with being sick. Remember that our bodies respond negatively to stress and this can cause the body to become more susceptible to the illness. Instead, opt for teas throughout the day, pamper yourself with soups, warm sweaters, and lots of water. "


Keep It Clean

Constant cleaning is another way to protect yourself from the flu. "If you notice coworkers getting sick, or the boss starts sneezing uncontrollably, take the appropriate measures to keep your space clear of viral plague by using disinfecting wipes or sprays routinely," Dr. Sonpal says.

"Use the same strategy at home. If someone is sick around you or if you yourself are sick and want to optimize your chances of quickly recovering and warding off the illness for good. Clean and disinfect your bathroom (showers are great breeding grounds for germs), your bedroom, and all flat surfaces."

With a lot of vigilance, a flu shot, and some serious self-care, you can increase your chances of remaining flu free this season.

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