From the community

Columnist: Hand-washing, vaccine help guard against flu

Posted Oct. 08, 2009, at 10:33 a.m.

By: Carol Higgins Taylor

Well, summer was short-lived and now it’s fall. While we can revel in the brightly colored leaves and crisp apples, OK, candy apples, autumn does have a downside — not winter lurking right around the corner — but the beginning of flu season.

In fact, someone had a sneezing fit near me the other day, and I immediately washed my hands and kept my distance.

And with good reason. Being in close 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. You will still be considered contagious for three to four days after the dreaded symptoms appear.

If you think about all the things in your daily life that have been touched repeatedly 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. Of course, if hand washing is not possible, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

These waterless alcohol-based cleaners are readily available in stores and are portable, so you never have to be without protection. 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. And for men, I have seen packets of disinfecting wipes that can slip into a back pocket easily.

Most important, 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.

But careful though, 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 a 3-foot perimeter 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 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.

So how do you know your symptoms are the flu and not just a cold?
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.

To get a flu shot, 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.

Now a word about H1N1. As of this writing, people age 65 and older who may get infected are having much milder symptoms than younger folks. Talk to your doctor about the H1N1 virus and decide together what your course of action should be. This shot also is covered by Medicare.

And remember, even if you have the flu shot, you must keep those hands clean. And don’t touch your face, as 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 chtaylor@eaaa.org. For information on EAAA, call 941-2865, toll-free 800-432-7812, e-mail info@eaaa.org or log on EAAA.org. TTY 992-0150.

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