4 tips to help you avoid the flu during peak flu season
Flu activity is considered widespread and epidemic in Washington state, with 24 lab-confirmed influenza deaths reported statewide, according to the Washington State Department of Health.
The best protection against the flu is washing your hands regularly and getting a yearly flu shot.
Flu activity typically peaks between December and March, but it can last as late as May.
Here’s what you need to know about the current outbreaks, plus the best ways to protect yourself and your family.
1. Flu shots are your best protection, and it’s not too late to get one.
There’s still time to get your flu shot. The flu vaccine is effective as long as flu viruses are circulating.
Because flu viruses are constantly changing, each year the vaccine is updated based on which influenza viruses are making people sick.
The vaccine this year is a good match with circulating viruses, according to the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department. Influenza A (H3N2) is the predominating virus being seen during this flu season.
The flu vaccine can reduce the risk of flu by about 50–60 percent, according to research conducted by the CDC, which studies how well the vaccine protects against the flu each year.
Traditional flu vaccines protect against three different flu viruses that research suggests will be most common: two influenza A viruses and one influenza B virus.
Even when the vaccine is not a good match against circulating viruses, it can still sometimes provide protection against different (but related) viruses, says the CDC.
Everyone older than 6 months old should get the flu shot, according to the CDC. It’s especially important for those at higher risk to get vaccinated:
- Children younger than 5 but especially younger than 2
- Adults 65 and older
- Pregnant women
- Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
- Native Americans and Alaskan Natives
- People with certain medical conditions
Be sure to get a shot, not the nasal spray — the FluMist vaccine is no longer recommended by the CDC because of concerns about its effectiveness.
2. Avoid contact with sick people and practice good hand hygiene.
We know washing our hands is one of the most effective steps against illnesses such as the flu, but what else can you do?
- Avoid crowded places and close contact with people who are sick
- Cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze
- Avoid touching your eyes and nose, as this is how flu viruses spread
3. If you get sick, stay home and rest.
Taking these steps is not a guarantee, of course. The key to getting better is to stay home and rest. In addition:
- Avoid close contact with family members so you don’t pass on the illness
- Drink plenty of fluids — dehydration is a serious complication in flu patients
- You can treat fever and cough with over-the-counter medications for comfort
- If you have a flu-like illness, try to stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone (unless you need to receive care)
4. If symptoms don’t improve, see your doctor.
If you experience a cough, fever or other flu symptoms that worsen or don’t improve, this is the time to see your doctor. The same goes if you are pregnant, over age 65 or otherwise at high risk of flu-related complications.
See your primary care doctor or visit one of MultiCare’s many walk-in clinics. Avoid the emergency room for flu-like symptoms unless you have underlying health conditions.
Difficulty breathing, inability to drink enough fluids and irritability in children are some of the more serious signs of a significant influenza infection, which can lead to complications.
Where can I get a flu shot?
You can get your flu shot by making an appointment with your primary care or pediatric provider, visiting a pharmacy that offers the vaccine or visiting one of MultiCare’s walk-in clinics.
Pharmacies that offer the flu shot typically accept most forms of insurance, but be sure to let your primary care doctor know you received your flu shot so it can be added to your record.
Walk-in options that MultiCare Health System offers include:
- MultiCare Immunization Clinic at South Hill Mall
- MultiCare Mary Bridge Mobile Immunization Clinic
- MultiCare Indigo Urgent Care clinics (vaccines are for patients 19 and older)
- MultiCare Express Clinic in Lakewood (vaccines are for patients 19 and older)