Flu vaccine and other measures can protect your health

With the current flu season starting earlier and affecting a broader region of the U.S., health experts make helpful recommendations to help you protect yourself against the flu.

Practicing good personal hygiene will help protect you from flu as well as the common cold and other illnesses. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides a factsheet listing good health habits and everyday preemptive measures that prevent the spread of germs. They offer many common sense tips such as avoiding close contact with those who are ill and staying home when ill with flu-like symptoms until fever-free for 24 hours. Wash your hands frequently and avoid touching your nose, eyes and mouth.

The CDC also offers a wealth of flu-related information on their website, including weekly updates about the national flu situation. They suggest persons age 6 months and older receive annual flu vaccinations, especially those at higher risk for flu-related complications. A nasal spray vaccine is also available, although it is not recommended for adults over 50 and toddlers under 2 years of age.

The CDC does caution those who have ever had a severe allergic reaction to eggs or to a previous flu vaccine to forego the vaccination. The current method of preparing flu vaccines is done by inoculating the virus into chicken eggs. Those individuals with a history of Guillain-Barre Syndrome , an auto-immune disease, are also advised against being vaccinated. During previous flu seasons, an increase in the incidence of the syndrome in individuals who recently had the flu or received a flu vaccination led some officials to believe contact with the virus caused an immune reaction that triggered the syndrome.

Though getting the vaccine is highly recommended for those who are eligible to receive it, a person can still contract some strains of influenza even if he or she has gotten the vaccine. Each year, medical experts fashion a vaccine protecting against select flu strains they expect to be most problematic. The current vaccine was designed to protect against three flu viruses.

Many people are unsure if the respiratory illness they are suffering through is the common cold or the more dangerous flu. Again, the CDC provides information to assist individuals in determining whether they are suffering from a cold or the flu. As might be expected, while both illness have similar symptoms and can make one feel miserable, during the most recent week for which statistics are available, the CDC reported only 32 percent of specimens tested were positive for the influenza virus. As unpleasant as having the common cold can be, it certainly is preferable to having flu.

With flu season typically peaking in January and February, the CDC states that this is the earliest flu season the U.S. has experienced in the past 10 to 12 years. It is also the fourth year in a row that the number of people seeing their health care providers for flu-like illness is above normal. The CDC maintains five distinct categories of flu surveillance that they use for compiling and analyzing U.S. influenza activity year round. In collaboration with their many state and local partners, a weekly flu surveillance report is published October to mid-May.

In addition to national influenza information that can be found on the CDC website, the Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH) Influenza website also provides ongoing updates regarding the current statewide flu situation.

Michigan State University Extension offers additional suggestions for maintaining a healthy lifestyle that can help you avoid flu and other illnesses. Contact a MSU Extension educator in your area for more information.

Take time to visit these websites and incorporate the recommended actions to protect yourself and those around you during flu season.