Guest Post: Is It Too Late To Avoid The Flu?

By Paula Spencer Scott, Senior Editor

The 2012-13 flu season is shaping up to be one of the worst in years. If you or your loved ones haven’t succumbed yet, these steps can help you stay healthy. And if someone does get sick, many of the same steps can prevent a wider spread of infection.

Get a flu shot. No, it’s not too late. This year’s shot only offers 62 percent effectiveness, according to Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But it’s still considered the number-one prevention tool.

Give the flu shot time to kick in. It can take one to two weeks for a flu shot to offer protection (see: How Long Does It Take for a Flu Shot to Offer Protection? for more information on flu shot protection). So don’t expect instant immunity.

Keep vulnerable loved ones away from crowds. Given how widespread the flu already is, we’re all courting trouble by hanging out in crowded public places like shopping malls. But those who should especially keep away include the very young, the frail old, and those with health conditions that weaken the immune system or who are using treatments that can affect the immune system, such as.

Keep suspicious visitors away from vulnerable loved ones. If you live with someone with a chronic illness or who is a frail older adult, be a good gatekeeper. If a guest has a cough, a runny nose, or is complaining about being under the weather, don’t endure a visit. Invite him or her back at a better (healthier) time.

Stay home if you’re feeling under the weather. Best to avoid crowds, including the workplace, when your immune system is low. And in case your symptoms mean you’re coming down with something, you can avoid infecting others.

Wash hands often. Pretend you’re obsessive-compulsive and do it all day long. Be sure to wash hands (with soap and water or hand sanitizer) after touching doorknobs.

Become a clean freak. Stock up on cleaning supplies. You may use them more if you have them handy right in each bathroom and the kitchen. Wipe down surfaces often. Bring portable wipes to work so you can keep your keyboard and any shared spaces cleaner, too.

Try a face mask. It’s not clear they’re super-effective, but in a situation where some people are sick, they can provide an added barrier between a frail older adult and the flu.

Stay well hydrated. Keeping nasal passages moist helps them resist germs. Drinking lots of water and using nasal saline sprays helps — especially when flying, as aircraft cabin air is dry.

Get at-risk groups to the doctor at the earliest symptoms. Very young children and the very old should get swift treatment, says the CDC. Medicines such as Tamiflu work best within the first 48 hours.

About the Author

Paula Spencer Scott is senior editor at, the leading online destination for caregivers seeking information and support as they care for aging parents, spouses, and other loved ones. Paula is a 2011 MetLife Foundation Journalists in Aging fellow and writes extensively about health and caregiving. You may also want to see Paula’s article 7 Ways to Have Fun While Fighting Cold and Flu.

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