Everybody's talking about the current flu epidemic. Although winter always brings with it the flu season, it appears that this year's is hitting us early and hard. A few reminders about prevention can't hurt!The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that everyone over six months of age be immunized with the flu vaccine. In my experience, this especially applies to those who are elderly, often get the flu, work with the public, or whose immune system is compromised by illness or underlying chronic medical conditions. The strains chosen for this year's vaccine should cover most of the flu germs circulating out there. Be on the lookout for flu symptoms, and seek medical attention immediately. Influenza is a virus, and although there is no cure for the common cold virus, there do happen to be powerful anti-flu prescription medications (such as Tamiflu). They can be quite effective if started during the first few days of becoming ill. Flu symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, fatigue, and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea. If you are not suffering from fever and body aches, it is unlikely that it is the flu. If you are sick, please don't be the one to share your germs. Stay home while getting well, and seek medical care if necessary. Practice good hygiene! Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, or do it into the crook of your elbow. Wash your hands after coughing or sneezing for 30 seconds with soap and water. Throw your tissue away after use. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. If you have avoided the flu so far, keep up the good work. Whenever possible, stay away from sick people! This is the time of year to avoid crowds. Ideally, stay away from malls, movie theaters, and other crowded places. When possible, do your grocery and other shopping early or late in the day. Be aware that surfaces such as elevator buttons, handrails, office phones, and doorknobs are all excellent sources for germs. Every time you shake hands, wash yours - this is the time to wash your hands much more often than you might otherwise. You can use alcohol-based wipes or hand sanitizers if a sink and soap are not handy. Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated. Remember that purses pick up germs too; choose a vinyl or leather instead of a cloth purse. They can easily be wiped down with antiseptic wipes. The Superbowl is right around the corner, and that means parties. Don't double-dip those chips, and be on the lookout for those who may not be practicing good hygiene. Smoking increases your risk of getting infections. Cigarettes dry out the mucous membranes, stun the cilia that line the airways and work to clean them, and generally depress the immune system. (Yes, this is yet another great opportunity to quit smoking...) Do you still bite your nails? This is an excellent way to deliver flu germs directly into your mouth. Time to stop! (The same applies to touching your eyes, mouth or inside your nose...) Finally, keep your immune system strong. Eat nutritious foods, exercise, get plenty of sleep, stay hydrated, and...keep smiling. Your positive mental outlook really will help. Stay healthy this winter! Dr. Alan Frischer is former chief of staff and former chief of medicine at Downey Regional Medical Center. Write to him in care of this newspaper at 8301 E. Florence Ave., Suite 100, Downey, CA 90240.
********** Published: January 24, 2013 - Volume 11 - Issue 41