Flu season is off to its earliest start in nearly a decade, with several states reporting a dramatic jump in cases and health officials urging Americans to get vaccinated.
Their insistence is driven in large part by a particularly nasty strain of the flu that wreaked havoc in the winter of 2003-04, when more than 48,000 died (and led to the establishment in 2005 of National Influenza Vaccination Week, which began on Sunday). The current batch of vaccines matches well with that strain, which makes it all the more important to get it, officials say.
“It looks like it’s shaping up to be a bad flu season, but only time will tell,” Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told The Associated Press.
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But while the flu vaccine is the best way to protect yourself (it is particularly recommended for children over 6 months, pregnant women, people over 65 and those with chronic diseases such as asthma and diabetes), it is not a guaranteed defense. Whether or not you get the shot - an estimated 63 percent of Americans have not - there are many everyday, elementary things you can do to lessen the odds of falling victim.
Here are a few of them, via the CDC.
• Wash your hands, a lot. Use soap and water. But if they are not available, sanitizer will suffice.
• Try not to touch your eyes, nose and mouth too much. That’s how germs spread.
• Stay away from sick people.
If you do get sick, the best you can do is stay at home, away from healthy people. The CDC also recommends asking your doctor if it makes sense to take an antiviral drug. These drugs can ease symptoms and help them fade faster.