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Column: Protect Yourself from the Flu

No doubt, you’ve heard the news stories about the severity of this year’s influenza season. The annual virus struck early this year across most of the country, according to tracking models compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and remains “widespread.” At Inova Alexandria Hospital, we’re feeling it, too. Visits to our Emergency Department have been on the rise since mid-December due to the virus and other seasonal ailments. And, with a flu season that doesn’t end in our area until mid-May, we still have a long way to go.

At Inova we’re doing our part to keep the community healthy from flu: Last year we initiated mandatory vaccination for all of our employees whose jobs bring them in close contact with our patients. We took that commitment one step further this year by requiring all employees to be vaccinated. What can you do to protect yourself?

GET VACCINATED

The most effective way to avoid getting sick with flu or spreading the virus is through annual vaccination. Flu strains typically change from one year to the next, so last year’s vaccination will likely not protect against this year’s virus. The CDC recommends that everyone six months of age and older get vaccinated, especially those at high-risk for flu-related complications, including the elderly, pregnant women, and those with certain medical conditions.

MINIMIZE RISK

While it’s impossible to avoid germs altogether, you can minimize flu risk to yourself and others:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick or when you are sick.

  • Stay home at the first sign of illness to prevent spreading the virus.

  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly.

  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.

  • Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing (and throw away that tissue).

KNOW THE SYMPTOMS

The flu is often confused for a cold due to the similarity of the symptoms. In general, flu symptoms are more severe, come on faster, and remain longer with the following symptoms:

  • Fever and chills

  • Dry cough

  • Runny or stuffy nose

  • Headache

  • Body aches

  • Sore throat

  • Possible stomach discomfort, including nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea

If you suspect you have the flu, antiviral medication may shorten the duration of the illness, but generally must be given within 48 hours of symptom onset. Act quickly.

Learn more about influenza, including facts and myths, who should and shouldn’t be vaccinated, or find an Inova flu clinic near you at inova.org/flu.

Christine Candio, FACHE

CEO, Inova Alexandria Hospital