INDIANAPOLIS — In preparation for fall, we must guard ourselves against influenza. The flu is a contagious respiratory disease that causes mild to severe illness and can cause death in high-risk groups. With the COVID-19 pandemic, it is even more important to do everything possible to reduce the spread of illness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging us to take the following actions to protect ourselves from the flu.
Getting a flu vaccine is the best way to protect yourself against the most common types of flu. Not only does the flu vaccine reduce the spread of the flu, but it also lowers the risk of flu-associated hospitalizations and deaths. Although flu vaccines do not prevent COVID-19, they can help conserve scarce medical resources needed to care for patients with COVID-19.
The CDC recommends that anyone six months and older get a yearly, age-appropriate flu vaccine in September or October. Vaccination is vital for people who have a high risk of severe complications from the flu. These high-risk groups include, but are not limited to, people 65 and older, pregnant women, young children and people with chronic health disease. Children younger than six months and people with severe, life-threatening allergies to the flu vaccine are not eligible to receive the flu vaccine. The most responsible thing we can do to protect these groups is to get vaccinated.
Many of the steps we have taken to reduce the spread of COVID-19 are the same for reducing the flu spread. Avoid close contact with people who are sick, or if you are sick, limit contact with others to protect them from getting sick. Stay home if you are sick to prevent spreading illness. Cover your coughs and sneezes to avoid flu and other serious respiratory diseases. Wash your hands often with soap and water and remember to keep your hands away from your eyes, nose and mouth to stop germs. The flu virus can live on surfaces for up to 48 hours. Regularly clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as countertops, doorknobs and light switches at home, work or school.
Most people with a mild case of the flu do not need medical care or antiviral medicine. However, if you have the flu and are at high risk of severe flu complications or become very sick, you may need antiviral medication. Prescription medications known as antiviral drugs come in pill, liquid or powder form used to treat the flu. Antiviral medication works best if taken within two days of getting sick. It can help mild flu symptoms, prevent serious flu complications and shorten the time you are sick. Antiviral medication is not a substitute for the flu vaccine and is different from antibiotics that fight bacterial infections. Practice good habits like getting plenty of sleep, being physically active, managing stress, eating nutritious food and drinking plenty of fluids can also help guard you against the flu.