Flu Season Has Arrived—Are You Protected?

Tuesday, October 10, 2017 - 8:50am

Influenza is getting an early start in Wisconsin and now is the time to get vaccinated. Anyone can get influenza, and it can be a serious illness that may cause hospitalization and death. There have already been 5 flu-related hospitalizations in Dane County since mid-August. There were 337 flu-related hospitalizations in Dane County last flu season, from October 2016 to May 2017.

“We want everyone older than 6 months to get a flu shot now, because it takes about 2 weeks for the full protection to set in after receiving it. By getting the shot now, you’ll be protected for the course of the flu season, which can last through spring,” says Diane McHugh, Immunization Coordinator for Public Health Madison & Dane County (PHMDC).

For those with health insurance, flu shots are now readily available at local clinics, and also at area pharmacies. For those without health insurance, PHMDC can help. Free flu shots are offered by appointment for adults without health insurance, and for children without health insurance or who have Medical Assistance/Forward card. To schedule an appointment, call (608) 266-4821.

The flu is not a stomach bug, and is much worse than a bad cold. Influenza causes high fever, cough, sore throat, body aches and oftentimes many days of missed work or school. Young children, pregnant women, people 65 years and older and people with certain medical conditions, like asthma, diabetes or heart disease are particularly vulnerable to the flu and complications of the illness.

According to McHugh, “some flu vaccines are made to be more protective of adults 65 and older who have weaker immune systems and are more at risk for hospitalization, long term complications, and death. Be sure to ask your provider which vaccine is best for you.”

Every flu season is different because flu viruses are constantly changing. Flu vaccine is developed each year based on the viruses predicted to be circulating in the U.S. for that flu season, which is why it is important to get vaccinated each year.

“Flu shots are safe and effective,” says McHugh. “Even when they’re not 100% effective at preventing flu, they may reduce how sick you’ll get and reduce your chance of being hospitalized. When you get your flu shot, you’re also helping to reduce the amount of illness in our community, which helps protect the folks who can’t get a flu shot, like babies younger than 6 months old.”

McHugh further advises that, “if you take care of others, like as a childcare or health care provider, or you care for a spouse, parent or child with special needs, the flu shot is especially important for you. Stay healthy for them, and reduce sick time for you.”
While the shot is the best protection against getting the flu, there are other precautions people can take to stay healthy and prevent the spread of flu:

  • Wash hands often, and for at least 20 seconds, with soap and water. Use alcohol-based hand rub if soap and water aren’t available.
  • Avoid touching the eyes, nose or mouth. Germs from touching a contaminated surface can enter the body in these areas.
  • Cover the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Frequently disinfect surfaces at home, work or school that are touched regularly.
  • Manage stress, exercise, stay hydrated, eat well, and get plenty of sleep.
  • Stay home when sick and take flu antiviral drugs if prescribed by a doctor.

For more information about the flu, see https://www.cdc.gov/flu/

For more information about flu shots from PHMDC, see http://www.publichealthmdc.com/disease/immunizations/influenza.cfm

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Health & Safety