The headlines are frightening: “Flu outbreak!” “Hospitals Overrun!” The media has certainly made the public aware of the recent deadly outbreak of flu. However, what does that really mean for you and me?

We have known for some time, of the potential for a severe flu outbreak. Luckily, the flu vaccine made for this year, seems to match the most common strain affecting our population. This is of great benefit to all who chose to be vaccinated.

However, not everyone is comfortable with pollution, and there are times when even that is not enough maintain health. Knowing what you are dealing with can help you to make smart choices to protect your personal health and the health of those around you. To be healthy by choice, and not by chance, here are some t hings to keep in mind:

  • The flu is a virus, not a bacterial infection. Antibiotics will NOT help symptoms. They could even compound problems when taken unnecessarily.
  • Viruses are highly contagious, meaning you can contract them easily, through simple exposure.
  • The flu virus is spread through respiratory droplets, when someone coughs or sneezes.
  • It can be spread through the air when you breathe it in.
  • The flu virus can live on hard surfaces for up to 8 hours, and on your hands, making it very easy to carry from person to person.
  • The main routes of transmission include the mouth, nose, and eyes . When you touch a contaminated surface, and then those places on your face, you introduce the virus into your system.
  • Keep hands off your face and away from these areas unless you are 100% certain that your hands are germ free.
  • Be aware and hypervigilant in high-risk areas, such as schools, restaurants, large gatherings, all public places, bathrooms, kitchens, and hospitals / Dr. offices. Surfaces / items in these high-risk areas have the potential for the flu virus to be present on all hard surfaces shared by others. Take precautions.
  • Flu symptoms should appear within 48 hours of exposure, but an actual flu case can not be “confirmed” right away.
  • The young, old, and infirmed are at greatest risk; however, everyone is susceptible to this virus. Decreased immunity due to age, preexisting conditions or compromised immune function, make the risk for serious complications such and pneumonia and death more likely.
  • Taking personal preceditions as a rule will greatly reduce your chances of illness. The CDC recommends that high-risk individuals get their flu shot as a first-line precaution.
  • Antiviral medication from your doctor, such as Tamiflu, and Relenza, can be taken to reduce the duration and severity of the illness, but only when taken within the first 48 hours of the sunset of symptoms.

With the media attention, and the potential for rapid spread, many have become concerned about their own personal safety. While this may seem like a new problem, the precautions are the same ones you have heard for years. Here are the top ten ways you can protect yourself from the flu.

  1. Wash your hands! Wash or sanitize before eating, after restroom use and often in between.
  2. Keep your hands off your face, especially eyes, nose, and mouth.
  3. Cover your cough. Ideally cough into your sleeve at the crook of your elbow (vents hand to hand to hand, and hand to surface, spread). Dispose of tissues properly and then wash your hands.
  4. Keep at least an arms distance (three feet is recommended) between you and anyone known to be ill.
  5. Avoid crowded events and gatherings when possible. Wear a mask if you are concerned.
  6. Use extreme precautions when touching common-use items such as ketchup / mustard / salt / pepper / menus at a restaurant, or multi-use areas such as desks, tables, light switches, faucet handles, key boards, chair backs, water fountains, phones, magazines, doorknobs, and etc.
  7. Wash hard surfaces regularly with a sanitizer or bleach solution. Carry hand sanitizer and use regularly. Note: Always wash with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.
  8. Keep your immune system strong by eating properly, exercising, getting adequate rest, and proper vitamin and mineral supplementation.
  9. Stay home when you are ill with a fever and respiratory complications.
  10. If you become severely ill with fever and massive aches and fatigue, seek medical attention within the first 48 hours of the onset of symptoms (earlier the better) to seek an antiviral medication. This can reduce the severity of symptoms and the duration of the illness.

The bottom line: This is a serious illness, however by understanding how the virus is spread and taking proper precautions you can keep yourself healthy. Even if you are unfortunate enough to contract the illness, by seeking medical attention early, your chances of getting through the illness without problems is very good.

Remember that knowledge is power. Be proactive. Do not wait to see if you get ill; take the basic precautions to avoid it. Be empowered! Use what you know to stay well this flu season, and beyond.