Fever, fatigue, chills, cough, body aches, stuffy nose, and sometimes even vomiting and diarrhea? No one looks forward to the symptoms and risks that flu season brings. From October through May—and sometimes even earlier or later—many of us in the U.S. are on high alert for the very contagious respiratory virus that can take down the family.
So what can you expect where you live? While each season is different and the influenza virus is tough to predict, we can look at last year’s impact, which areas were hit first and worst, and how you can prepare as this season ramps up.
Last flu season was moderate, but long. In fact, the 2018-2019 U.S. flu season was the longest season in a decade.1 Here’s the estimated toll it took, by the numbers:2
By the end of November last flu season, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Oregon, Kentucky, and Utah were experiencing regional flu activity. California, Texas, New York, Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New Jersey—among other states—were all experiencing local flu activity at the end of this month.3 By mid-December, 24 states reported regional or widespread activity.4 And by March of this year, nearly all areas had fallen victim to widespread flu illness.3
Will your region escape serious outbreak this flu season? If not, how can you keep the fallout under control?
Priority #1 for flu protection is getting the annual influenza vaccine—known as the flu shot—for all children older than 6 months and healthy adults. The injection into your arm works by creating antibodies that protect you against future flu infection. “The annual flu vaccine is an important protective measure against the influenza virus,” says David Harrison, MD, medical director and VP of physician affairs at Teladoc Health.
You must get the shot annually since the seasonal formula is developed to match the flu viruses that are expected to make their way around the U.S. that year. It’s definitely not too late to get yours at a local pharmacy, doctor’s office, or clinic.
Another way to protect yourself is to learn how the virus spreads, and take action. The flu travels fast—from state to state, and neighbor to neighbor—through droplets when infected people cough, sneeze, or talk. You can inhale these droplets directly into your lungs, or touch a surface that’s been infected and then touch your own mouth, nose, or eyes.
“Cleaning hands with soap and warm water often for at least 20 seconds—especially before eating or touching your face—is the habit most helpful in preventing the spread of viruses like the flu,” says Dr. Jason Tibbels, vice president of Teladoc Health Services.
In your home, during travels, or at work, consider all the frequently touched spots that could be flu contaminated: your phone, doorknobs, shopping carts, gym equipment, kitchen counters, remote controls, even the water cooler. Use a disinfectant spray or wipe for regular cleaning of surfaces to cut down on germs in those high-touch areas. Also, make a habit of sneezing and coughing into a tissue or your sleeve so you don’t become a germ spreader.
You never know when the flu will strike your area, so now’s the perfect time to get prepared. Get that flu shot and stock the house with over-the-counter pain medications like ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol), and a decongestant (Sudafed). Clear fluids for hydration, saline drops for your nose, and a warm-mist humidifier can help manage symptoms, so keep them on hand.
If you do get the flu, a prescription antiviral medication like Tamiflu may be right for you if the virus is detected early. A U.S. board-certified Teladoc physician can let you know if it will help you recover faster. It’s a good idea to update your medical history with us now and download the Teladoc app so you’re able to reach out to us quickly and easily when illness strikes. Our doctors, licensed in your state, are here for you 24/7 during flu season, bed rest, and beyond.
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