Avoiding the Flu

The flu isn’t fun. I had only a mild case and was nearly incapacitated for 48 hours. This doesn’t sound like a long time, but when you are a mom with two children (also sick), the hours seem like years.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, there have been 4,615 laboratory-confirmed influenza-associated hospitalizations since October 1, 2013. This translates to a cumulative rate of 17 hospitalizations per 100,000 people in the United States.[1] As a pediatrician, I’ve been taking care of a lot of very ill children. Already, a total of 28 influenza-associated pediatric deaths have been reported for the 2013-2014. Eight of those deaths occurred during the week of January 12-18.[2]

So what do young families do to avoid getting sick? For the flu, prevention is the best strategy. Although this flu strain does seem to be fairly responsive to TamiFlu, it has to be started within the first 72 hours of symptoms. Unfortunately, many children have already had symptoms for more than 3 days by the time they see me.

If you haven’t gotten sick yet, and don’t want to, there are five simple steps you can take to decrease your family’s risk of getting and spreading the flu:

1.  Wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands. Even if you don’t knowingly interact with someone ill, you can still be exposed. Doorknobs, elevator buttons, computer keyboards are all common agents for transmitting influenza viral particles that can make you sick. During flu season, I carry my own bottle of hand sanitizer and use it liberally.

2.  Build your immune system. You can do this by eating a well balanced diet, getting plenty of rest, and exercising regularly. Unfortunately, influenza season falls right during the peak holiday season where tempting sweets can throw even the best diet plan off. Compensate for that sweet urge by giving your body plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. These are packed full of vitamins and minerals that help boost your immune system. It’s hard during the winter, but make sure to avoid too many late nights. It may be a bit of a sacrifice, but if you avoid a week of illness that will more than make it worthwhile.

Finally, add a moderate exercise program to your schedule if you aren’t already on one. Walking is the best form of exercise and people can derive benefits even walking only 20 minutes three times a week. Start with something easy and gradually build up as time and endurance allow.

3.  Avoid other people if you start feeling ill. Work is important, and no one wants to be considered a slacker, but one ill person exposing everyone at work can bring an entire office to a standstill. I have personally witnessed small businesses struggle when everyone in the office got the flu because someone didn’t stay home.

4.  Hands off my baby! If you have children less than 6 months of age, avoid crowded places. Churches, shopping centers, play areas are all high-risk areas for flu exposure. Babies are especially vulnerable since their immune system is still maturing. If you have to frequent these areas, have a “hands-off” policy and keep your baby in a car seat or stroller as much as possible.

5.  Get the flu shot. It’s not perfect, but it’s the best we have to prevent the flu and it works pretty well. The flu shot is recommended especially for the elderly, the very young, and those with compromised health, because these groups are the most vulnerable to severe complications from the flu. I get a yearly flu shot. Despite examining children with the flu on a daily basis during flu season, I’ve only gotten the flu twice in the last 9 years.

Despite all precautions, you may still get influenza—but don’t panic. Call your healthcare provider immediately and follow his/her instructions. If treated promptly, influenza symptoms can often be minimized. The bottom line, with a little effort and appropriate precautions you and your family can safely weather the influenza season.



[1] http://www.cdc.gov/flu/weekly/summary.htm

[2] Ibid


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Rachel Nelson MD

graduated from Loma Linda University and completed a pediatric residency at UC Davis. She has a passion for helping children reach their full potential. She is married to a colorectal surgeon and together they have two children: Amy and Michael. Dr. Nelson enjoys playing outside with her kids, gardening, and music.

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