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Putnam: Preventative measures from catching flu

Dec. 10, 2017 at 4 a.m.

I am not sure if you have experienced the illness going around, but several members of my family have been very sick. There are 16 days left before Christmas and you don't want to spend that day in bed. Several have said they are not contagious, but I beg to differ. If they were not contagious, then why is it that everyone is getting this dreaded mess?

The National Institutes of Health states that each winter, millions of people suffer from seasonal flu. Flu — the short name for influenza — is caused by viruses. Viruses are very small germs. Some viruses can spread easily from one person to another. They cause illnesses or infections like the flu.

Flu is a mild illness for some people. For older people, especially those who have health problems, the flu can be serious or life-threatening. Most people who get the flu feel much better in a week or two, but some people get very sick. Because your body is busy fighting off the flu, you might pick up a second infection. Older people are at great risk for secondary infections, such as pneumonia.

The flu is contagious. That means it spreads from person to person, often through the air. You can pass on the infection before you feel sick and you are contagious for several days after you get sick. You can catch the flu when someone near you coughs or sneezes, or when you touch something the virus is on, such as someone's phone or doorknob, and then touch your nose or mouth. The flu virus can live on a surface, such as a book or doorknob, for a number of hours. Remember to wash your hands often when you are around someone who is sick. If you can, stay away from those who are sick.

The NIH also shares information on how easy it is to confuse a common cold with seasonal flu. A cold is milder than the flu, but since the flu can make older people very sick, you should know the difference. People with the flu can have fever, chills, dry cough, general aches and pains, and a headache. They feel very tired. Sore throat, sneezing, stuffy nose or stomach problems are less common. What some people call "stomach flu" is not influenza.

So, how can we keep from becoming ill? Last week, I left work one afternoon not feeling very good. I went home, drank my vinegar, took a couple of Tylenol, had a hot shower and went to bed. The next day I was feeling pretty good. Remember, when you start to feel a little ill, stop and let your body rest.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shares the following preventive actions:

  • Try to avoid close contact with sick people.

  • If you or your child gets sick with flu-like illness, CDC recommends that you (or your child) stay home for at least 24 hours after the fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. The fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.

  • While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them.

  • 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. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.

  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Germs spread this way.

  • Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs like the flu.

  • If you start to feel achy or begin to have a runny nose and sore throat, then be mindful and take care of yourself. Don't wait until it is too late and you have the dreaded flu on Christmas day. See your doctor if you have flu like symptoms.

— Tami Putnam is a Texas A&M AgriLife extension agent for Gregg County.



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