Someone had a sneezing fit near me the other day. I immediately washed my hands and kept my distance.
After all, it is the season of colds and flu, and being in close proximity to a sneeze or a cough can spell trouble. If by chance you are hit with flying germs, symptoms may appear within two to four days, and the infection is considered contagious for an additional three to four days.
If you think about all the things in your daily life that carry germs, from door knobs to money to items in grocery stores, you’ll realize that hand washing is a must.
However, if hand washing is not possible, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. These waterless cleaners are readily available in stores and are portable, so you never have to be without protection.
You cannot have too many of these germ fighters around, so stock up. You never know when you will be forced to shake hands with someone who has a prominently runny nose and dry cough. Keep a bottle of sanitizer in your car and your purse so it will be handy.
And keep your hands away from your face. If you have touched something that has been touched by an infected person, and then you rub your eyes or nose, the virus on your fingers will have just found an entryway into your body.
But careful though you may be, remember that the flu virus is also airborne, so if you happen to be in the path of a random coughing jag or sneezing fit by an infected person, you could get sick.
One of the best ways to guard against influenza is to have a flu shot.
While getting a flu vaccination is not a 100-percent guarantee that you won’t contract the flu, your vaccination will ensure that your symptoms will be reduced.
The Centers for Disease Control has released a “facts and myths” sheet regarding the flu vaccine:
ä Myth: The flu isn’t a serious disease. Fact: Each year some 200,000 people are hospitalized, and 36,000 die from the flu. Most who die from the flu are 65 years old and older.
ä Myth: The flu shot causes the flu. Fact: The flu virus in the shot is dead, which means it is inactive. It cannot cause someone to get the flu.
ä Myth: The side effects of the shot are worse that the flu. Fact: The worst side effect is usually a sore arm at the injection site. Other side effects are rare.
The fact is that the flu can cause complications such as bronchitis and pneumonia quickly in seniors. That can be life threatening, and delaying treatment can make matters worse.
So how do you know your symptoms are the flu?
According to the CDC, flu can cause fever, chills, headache, dry cough, runny or stuffy nose, sore throat, muscle aches and extreme fatigue lasting several days to more than a week. While nausea, vomiting and diarrhea can sometimes accompany influenza infection, these symptoms are rarely prominent. The illness that people often call “stomach flu” is a virus, but it is not influenza.
Flu season is November through March, so call your health care provider or go to one of the clinics being held in the area. Watch your newspaper for times and places. The vaccine is covered by Medicare, so bring your card with you.
But remember that even if you have the flu shot, you must keep those hands clean, and don’t touch your face, because there is no injection to prevent the common cold.
Carol Higgins Taylor is director of communications at Eastern Area Agency on Aging. E-mail Carol Higgins Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org. For information on EAAA, call 941-2865, toll-free 800-432-7812, e-mail email@example.com or log on EAAA.org. TTY 992-0150.