One strain of the flu virus circulating this year is the H3N2 strain. It has received notoriety because flu vaccines have been less than effective due to a genetic mutation in a strain of the virus. As a result, this year’s nasty strain of the flu has produced some of the worst symptoms in recent years. The proportion of deaths caused by pneumonia and flu has been above the epidemic threshold, particularly for frailer older adults and children under 5 and has more than doubled the rate of hospitalizations.
What’s a person to do to prevent the flu? Getting the flu vaccine is still the best line of defense, even if it’s not as effective as in previous years. Experts agree that the vaccine helps to protect against the most severe symptoms. It is strongly recommended.
An additional, extremely important area of focus for everyone is hand washing. In fact, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) says hand washing is like a “do it yourself vaccine”. I would like to emphasize “everyone”. An observation I have made in health care facilities is this: we tend to emphasize the importance of doctors, nurses, and medical personnel washing their hands before and after patient contact, but what about the patient?
Family members caring for those who are sick with the flu need to pay attention to important details while caring for someone at home. The caregiver AND the ill person must pay close attention to hand washing and other steps to prevent spreading the flu to other family members.
Encourage the patient to put used facial tissues directly into a trash can at the bedside instead of into table tops, in the bed, or on the floor.
Use single-use disposable gloves and bleach solution to clean the bathrooms and sick room areas.
Use disinfectant spray on frequently used items such as door knobs, toilet handles, light switches.
Ask the sick person to sneeze and cough directly into a facial tissue and immediately throw the tissue away.
Wash your hands after each of these tasks to prevent becoming infected. Equally important, ask sick family members to wash their own hands frequently throughout the day to prevent the spread of infection.
Washing with antibacterial soap and water is the best way. Wash your hands for 10-15 seconds, fully lathering fingers, front and back of hands up to and including the wrists.
Typical flu symptoms include fever/chills; sore throat; runny nose; aching body. If you get sick, please do yourself and everyone around you the favor: stay home, avoid other people. Avoid going to the hospital; but do go if you can’t breathe, have sudden dizziness, keep throwing up or have pain in your chest.