SENIOR BEAT

Tips for keeping flu season at bay

Posted Oct. 17, 2011, at 3:22 p.m.

Well, summer was great, and now it’s fall. The leaves are beautiful and the apples are delicious, especially when they are covered in caramel, but autumn does have a downside — not winter lurking right around the corner — but the beginning of flu season.

Someone came into my office with a red nose and crumpled-up tissue the other day and I immediately sent them packing — and with good reason. Being in proximity to a sneeze or a cough can spell trouble. If you are hit with flying germs and become infected, symptoms usually appear within two to four days, and you’ll remain contagious for three to four days.

If you think about all the things in your daily life that have been repeatedly touched by possibly infected people, hand washing is a must. Germs can live on surfaces from door knobs to money to items in grocery stores for hours, even days. Time to take matters into your own freshly washed hands. And wash them well, not just a quick rinse under running water. Of course, if hand washing is not possible, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. You cannot have too many bottles of these germ fighters around so stock up. You never know when you’ll be forced to shake hands with someone who has a prominently runny nose and dry cough. Keep a bottle in your car and your purse so it will be handy. For men, there are packets of disinfecting wipes that can slip easily into back pockets.

Most importantly, in your war on the flu, is to 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 has just found an entryway into your whole body and will set up shop.

Careful though you may be, remember 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. Try to keep at least three feet between you and a sneeze or cough. Colds are uncomfortable and annoying, but the flu can cause complications such as bronchitis and pneumonia quickly in seniors, which can be life-threatening, and delaying treatment can make matters worse.

But, one of the best ways to guard against influenza is by having a flu shot, and while getting one is not a 100 percent guarantee that you won’t contract the virus, your vaccination will ensure that your symptoms will be reduced. Influenza can cause fever, chills, headache, dry cough, runny or stuffy nose, sore throat and muscle aches, and extreme fatigue lasting several days to more than a week. Call your health care provider or go to one of the numerous 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.

Ask your health care provider about the pneumonia shot. Remember that even if you have the flu shot, you must keep those hands clean and away from your face as there’s no injection to prevent the common cold.

However, if you are looking for a fun way to get your flu shot, come to the free Senior Health Fair, 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Friday, Oct. 28, at Spectacular Event Center in Bangor. Lots of screenings, Medicare part D enrollments and, of course, flu shots. There will be door prizes and refreshments too.

Carol Higgins Taylor is director of communications at EAAA. Email Higgins Taylor at chtaylor@eaaa.org. For information on EAAA, call 941-2865, toll-free 800-432-7812, email info@eaaa.org or visit http://www.EAAA.org. TTY 992-0150.

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