Stopping the flu starts with you

Ahhh … ahhh … ah CHOO! Sniff, cough, cough, AHEM!

These not-so-sweet sounds are a sure sign that flu season is here.

Flu season normally lasts from October until May, and peaks between December and February, according to the CDC. The flu is extremely contagious and can be dangerous for some.

“Since the flu is such a common virus, it’s easy to underestimate it,” said Jason Woloski, M.D, a Geisinger family physician. “Make no mistake—the flu is serious, and it can cause symptoms like fever, chills, muscle aches and sinus congestion. Thousands of people end up in the ER because of the flu every year. It’s important to maintain a healthy lifestyle and practice good hygiene. This will help keep you and others from getting sick.”

Here are four things you can do to keep yourself and everyone else healthy:

Get a flu shot now
“Just a quick pinch and a burn and … there! Done.”

In that span of time, you could have just gotten a flu shot. Getting a flu shot is the best thing you can do to prevent getting the flu this season.

Flu shots help you stay healthy, but they help others too. Flu shots create something called “herd immunity,” where people who get the shot prevent the spread of the virus, which protects those who can’t get vaccinated for medical reasons.

A flu shot is necessary every year to protect against the flu virus as it changes.

“One of the biggest objections to getting the flu shot is that people think it will give them the flu. That is false,” said Dr. Woloski. “The flu vaccine contains a deactivated or dead form of the virus, and it takes two weeks for the vaccine to take full effect. If you do get sick after the flu shot, it is either a side effect of the vaccine, like headache or fever, or it means that you got sick before the shot was able to become effective.”

Keep your hands to yourself
If you’re trying to avoid the flu, start with your own hands.

Wash your hands throughout the day, especially before eating. Be conscious of what you touch, and wipe down surfaces that collect germs, like keyboards, doorknobs and phones. Most importantly, avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.

“The quickest way to get the flu is by touching your eyes, nose and mouth throughout the day,” said Dr. Woloski. “Your eyes, nose and mouth all have sensitive mucus membranes that allow germs to sneak in and spread through your body.”

Watch where you sneeze
Sneezing is a highway for germs. When someone sneezes on the train, in the office or at home, the germs are thrown into the air, and anyone who breathes them in can be infected. Anyone who touches where they land can, too.

The best way to avoid infecting others is by sneezing into the crook of your elbow. This keeps germs trapped somewhere other people likely won’t touch. If you sneeze into your hands, germs are easily passed when you open a door, shake someone’s hand or use a railing.

Stay home when you’re sick
That deadline at work is approaching … faster … faster … then … uh oh. You get sick. What now? The deadline has to be met.

“It’s no problem, I can still make it to work,” you tell yourself. But this problem is bigger than you think. Coming to work sick poses a risk to you and to everyone around you.

“If you come to work sick, you can put unnecessary stress on yourself, which can make you sicker,” said Dr. Woloski. “Pair that with the fact that you’re risking infecting everyone else too, and it just isn’t worth it. You’re better off finding an alternate arrangement that lets you work from home, or just taking the day off. This way you can take care of yourself by staying hydrated and getting rest, while keeping everyone else healthy, too.”

Jason Woloski, M.D., is a primary care physician at Geisinger Kingston. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Woloski or another primary care physician, please call 570-283-2161 or visit Geisinger.org.

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