It’s not even Thanksgiving yet, and already 60 percent of the United States is seeing flu activity. That’s according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
This is unusually high for this time of year. In fact, it’s the most in a decade. The most widespread activity is being seen in California, Louisiana and Maryland.
Seven other states are seeing regional flu activity. They are Alabama, Florida, Indiana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Tennessee and Texas. Twenty other states and Puerto Rico are experiencing local activity.
As a contagious respiratory illness, the flu is extremely unpredictable. But generally, it peaks between December and February. So this is an early and alarming situation.
Influenza Can Be Deadly
Influenza can cause mild to severe illness. The very young and the elderly are the most vulnerable.
The most common symptoms are fever, runny nose and sore throat. Plus muscle pain, headache and coughing.
On average, approximately 8 percent of the U.S. population gets sick with the flu each year, says the CDC.
Sometimes the flu even leads to death. Last year, about 61,000 Americans died from the flu.
‘Free’ Flu Shot Can Be Costly
Whether or not to get a flu shot is a controversial subject. Those who choose to get one each year may appreciate that it’s given out for free or at a very low rate. But is it really?
The Affordable Care Act requires health groups to provide all federally-recommended vaccines free. That includes flu immunizations.
However, insurers do have to shell out for those flu shots. And you can be assured that they will cover their expenses one way or another.
Economists say that health plans pass those expenses along to consumers through higher premiums.
Higher Premiums Ahead
Ge Bai is an accounting and health policy professor at Johns Hopkins University. Here’s what he says. “The patient is immune from the expense. But they are the losers because eventually they give a higher premium.”
Those who get the flu shot are reminded by the CDC that it takes 10 to 14 days for it to start taking effect.
National medical associations suggest getting a flu shot. But many people believe it is either unnecessary or worse.
Because it is made from dead viruses, a person cannot get the flu from a flu shot. That’s according to the Mayo Clinic. However, the injection can trigger an immune response from your body that will result in flu-like symptoms.
Practice Good Health Habits
What’s the best way to stay healthy during flu season? By practicing good health habits year-round.
Covering your cough and washing your hands frequently can help prevent respiratory illnesses like the flu.
Here are several suggestions from the CDC that can assist in stopping the spread of germs.
- Avoid close contact with those who are sick.
- Stay home from work, school and doing errands when you’re sick.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you are coughing or sneezing.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are unavailable, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth after touching something that may be contaminated with germs.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work and school.
- Get plenty of sleep, manage your stress and stay physically active.
- Drink plenty of fluids and eat nutritious foods to keep your immunity high.
Speaking Words of Wisdom
Those who have the most contact with the public are the ones most likely to come in contact with the flu virus.
Such as flight attendants, doctors, exercise instructors, school teachers and others. Following are some tips they give for avoiding illness:
“I never use water fountains or the railings on stairs. They’ve got the prints of hundreds of germy hands, and they don’t get sanitized as often as other surfaces.” – a teacher
“I drink hot black or green tea with lemon and honey. Drinking the tea and breathing in steam stimulates the hair follicles in the nose to move out germs more efficiently.” – an ear, nose and throat specialist
“When I’m on trips, I don’t drink alcohol. It interferes with sleep quality. I’m much more likely to get sick when I’m sleep-deprived.” – a flight attendant
“Research shows that diets too low in protein can deplete the immune system. So I make sure to get protein-rich foods throughout the day.” – a director of nutrition
“I do a daily nasal rinse with a bulb syringe to flush out viruses and help clear secretions.” – a director of an allergy, asthma and immunology center
“Since I don’t get my recommended nine servings of whole fruits and vegetables every day… I start my day by making and drinking juice… kale, broccoli, apple (and others). Juicing allows me to drink that amount in concentrated form.” – a paramedic
The key is to keep your immune system as strong as possible. Especially by getting plenty of sleep and eating healthy foods, including fruits and vegetables.
That should give you your best shot of avoiding the flu this season.