Avoiding flu this holiday season

People infected with flu viruses may be contagious before they begin to exhibit symptoms and spread a virus without knowing it.

Spending time with family and friends is a long-standing holiday tradition. We travel together, enjoy holiday meals and catch up around the table. Being close to one another also allows for the easier spread of viruses. So while you’re enjoying the togetherness, be sure to take time to protect yourself and those you love from the flu.

Dr. Abbey Oshel of Liberty Hospital Primary Care Shoal Creek already is treating cases of the flu, and she expects those numbers to ramp up during the holidays. As of late November, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 10 states with widespread cases of flu. Holiday travel provides the perfect opportunity for viruses to spread nationwide.

“This time of year people spend a lot of time together in close proximity, which may lead to the unintended spread of viruses,” said Oshel.

People infected with flu viruses may be contagious before they begin to exhibit symptoms and spread a virus without knowing it. So what can you do?

“Practice good precautions,” Oshel said. “One of the leading ways to prevent the spread of flu viruses is to practice good hand hygiene. Wash hands often using soap and warm water.”

Also, Oshel recommends not handling or sharing utensils or cups with others. Be sure to frequently sanitize commonly shared objects, such as door handles, bathroom fixtures and TV remote controls. Keep a bottle of hand sanitizer within easy reach. Cover your cough using your elbow, not your hand, and wash your hands well after blowing your nose.

“The best prevention we can suggest is to get the flu shot,” Oshel said. “We recommend it as early in the season as possible to allow immunity to build and be strong before you come into contact with the flu.”

It’s also not too late to get a flu shot, says Oshel, because flu season typically lasts until March or April.

If you are suffering from flu symptoms, stay home, recommends Oshel. It may help prevent someone more susceptible from becoming sick. Infants under 6 months of age are not able to receive the flu shot, which puts them at higher risk. Elderly relatives, as well as those with compromised immune systems and those who have had recent hospital stays, also are at risk.

“It’s important to protect not only yourself, but others too,” Oshel said.

Early symptoms of flu may include runny nose, scratchy throat, headache, and watery, itchy eyes. Within 24 to 48 hours more serious symptoms may develop, including fever, body ache, worsening of early symptoms as well as a dry, tacky cough.

People may be contagious for up to 24 hours before flu symptoms appear, so practicing good preventive measures will help ensure you share great memories — and not the flu — with family and friends this holiday.

— Liberty Hospital

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