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Flu Season Prompts Preventative Measures

Residents look to stay healthy through use of vaccines and healthy lifestyles.

Ann Thomas Johnston steps up the slight incline in the small auditorium of Alexandria’s Inova Hospital and looks to her two children as she slowly but strongly rotates her right arm.

"Keep moving your arm, guys," she said, looking to her children Murray, 8, and Griffen, 6. "Just keep shaking it around."

Her children comply, flapping their arms quickly up and down between sucking on free candy given away by the hospital.

Johnston, an Alexandria resident, and her family had just joined in the near 90 million U.S. residents who annually get the flu vaccine.

She has been taking her family to get doses of the latest influenza vaccine for the last nine years. It’s a bid to avoid the most severe affects of the virus after a particularly bad experience with her husband nearly a decade ago.

This year she even introduced her German au pair to the vaccine for the first time.

"I tell my kids, even if you have the flu shot, you still feel a little sick, it’s just not going to be anywhere near as bad as it would have been had you not gotten it," Johnston said. "For a two-second shot, why wouldn’t you?"

THERE IS NO BETTER time than now to get a dose of this year’s influenza vaccine, as it is the most affective way to avoid becoming sick with the mostly seasonal virus, according to Rachel Lynch, program manager for prevention and self-care with Inova Healthsource based in Fairfax.

Unlike in previous years, there is no shortage of vaccines and health providers throughout Northern Virginia are offering weekly clinics and administering the shots at corporate and commercial settings in the region, Lynch said.

While residents designated as "high risk," such as young children and senior citizens are strongly recommended to get a flu shot, she said that every resident should be vaccinated.

The flu vaccine "is something that is available to everybody and it can keep you from getting sick," she said. "If there were a vaccine against diabetes, wouldn’t you take it?"

Contrary to certain perceptions, Lynch said, getting the vaccine cannot cause a person to come down with the flu, not even a mild version of it. And while already having the flu may prevent somebody from reacquiring the disease this season, it is not assured, as many different and sometimes less common strains of the virus filter through the population each year.

JUST AS HAVING the flu does not entirely protect somebody from acquiring the virus, getting vaccinated will not guarantee someone will not get the flu, Lynch added. While effective in preventing the most common strain of the flu, other less common strains may still infect some.

Getting a vaccine should be followed up with the bolstering of the body’s natural immune system through healthy lifestyle activities for maximum preventative results, she said. And the best way to build up the greatest defense against the disease is through exercise, a good diet and consistently washing hands.

The vaccine "is the most effective preventative available … but there are some additional ways that you can take care of yourself and help prevent yourself from getting sick," said Dr. Tuananh Nguyen of the Alexandria Hospital, who got his flu shot. "Things like exercising on a regular basis, eating right, always washing your hands, these will give you a much better chance at fighting the virus … and keeping away from becoming directly in contact with it."

AFTER SEVERAL FLU SEASONS in the area that have been mild and a number of flu vaccine shortages, Lynch said that she hopes residents remember that the flu is out there and that people need to take certain precautions to keep themselves from getting sick this winter.

"I think that we’ve become kind of complacent and that some people might not think about getting," the flu vaccination, she said.

And one of the most important things that people can do if they get the flu or think that they are starting to get sick is to stay home and limit contact with others to mitigate the spread of the virus, Lynch added.

"It’s not brave to go to work when you’re sick," She said. "You risk exposing your co-workers and friends to the flu and they end up exposing it to their families."

For Amy Kryzanowsky, a radiological technician at Alexandria Inova Hospital, getting the shot and doing her best to stay healthy is only a logical part of living.

"Last year I got the shot and I didn’t get the flu, so I’m back here this year," Kryzanowsky said after Alexandria Hospital staff finished administering the shot to her last week. "And I’ll come back next year and the year after that."

"I don’t want to get sick."