Steps to help protect from flu
- Wash your hands often with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.
- Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
- Practice good health habits. Get plenty of sleep and exercise, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids and eat healthy food.
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
- If you are sick with flu-like illness, stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone without the use of fever-reducing medicine.
The first few months of flu season have been somewhat slow, but cases are starting to pick up, according to local experts.
Currently, 2.8 percent of outpatient visits in Georgia are for flu-like illnesses, which is below the baseline percentage of 3.2, according to Dave Palmer, Hall County Health Department public information officer.
By the end of December 2012, the number of flu patients in Georgia was around 5.2 percent.
“The geographical spread of influenza in Georgia is minimal at this time,” Palmer said. “However, we know that flu is spread when people cough and/or sneeze the virus into the air, so the situation could change at any time.”
Dr. Katie Dudas, physician with the Northeast Georgia Physicians Group on Thompson Bridge Road in Gainesville, said she’s seen a number of patients testing positive for or at least showing signs of the virus just in the last few days.
“I think it’s going to be similar (this year) because it started out like this,” Dudas said. “It’s spreading pretty well.”
Typically, the flu season peaks in January and February, but the timing of the virus’ activity can vary from year to year.
Experts urge the public to minimize the spread of the virus by taking preventive measures such as getting a flu vaccine and maintaining proper hygiene.
“As soon as the vaccine is available — get the vaccine,” said Dr. Fatimah Manzoor, physician of internal medicine at The Longstreet Clinic. “That is the first and most important step you can do to protect yourself from this disease.”
The vaccine is available for everyone over the age of 6 months and protects against the strains of the virus that are expected to be most prevalent during a particular season.
Vaccinations take around two weeks to become effective, so it’s important to take action early.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the flu virus is most often spread through “droplets” made when infected people cough, sneeze or speak. The virus can also be passed by touching contaminated surfaces.
A person can be contagious one day before symptoms start to appear and from five to seven days after.
“If it is determined that you do have the flu and you’ve been diagnosed, we do have anti-viral medicines that we can start,” Manzoor said. “It’s best to start them within 48 hours of diagnosis.”
Anti-viral medications, such as Tamiflu, can help to lessen flu symptoms and in some cases can be used as a second line of defense to help prevent symptoms.
Manzoor and Dudas said they have prescribed the anti-viral medication to patients who either have been exposed to the virus or are caring for someone with a diagnosis.
Flu symptoms usually include fever, chills and body aches and can include coughing and sneezing.
Physicians urge patients with the flu to stay home from school or work to both recover and prevent spreading the virus.
“Staying home, getting lots of rest and fluids, staying away from sick people and starting early on medication, that is the key,” Manzoor said. “Flu takes a toll on your body.”
For more information on prevention and vaccination, visit www.flu.gov.