Family Medicine Residency Program
Published Articles by CMH Residents
Flu Shot Only One Element of Flu Prevention
By Dr. Sally Al-Abdulla, CMH Regional Health System
Even though vaccination is the best way to prevent influenza and its potentially severe complications, there are other things you should also do to prevent the flu as fall slips into winter and the heart of the flu season.
Each year, between 5 and 20 percent of the population become infected with the influenza virus—more than 200,000 are hospitalized from complications and approximately 36,000 ultimately die.
Influenza activity can circulate anytime from November through April, but with a little care and caution, you can stave away the viruses that cause the yearly flu through a combination of preventative tactics.
The most basic advice for flu prevention is probably one that will help us ward off many ills. This advice is to keep ourselves in tip-top shape through lifestyle awareness. In order to keep our immune systems functioning in peak condition, we need to provide ourselves with excellent nutrition.
Adequate intake of vitamins and minerals is important and can be achieved by remembering to eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily. It is also a good idea to vary the types of produce we eat in order to maximize the different types of nutrients available.
Citrus fruits, such as oranges, grapefruit, tangerines, and lemons, are high in vitamin C, folic acid, and potassium, which are helpful in keeping us in healthy condition. Green leafy vegetables also provide much needed iron, folic acid, and zinc as well as dietary fiber which are necessary in our daily diets.
Secondly, now that we are more conscious about what we eat and how it can boost our health, we can also turn our attention towards establishing a regular exercise routine. Regular aerobic exercise can help to reduce stress and help to strengthen our immune system.
Setting aside at least 20 minutes of brisk exercise three or four times a week can potentially help us see less of the flu this season as well as other infections, such as the common cold.
Exercise does not necessarily have to be boring or monotonous; we can alternate days of speed walking with bicycling, jogging, or swimming. When taking the dog out for a walk, we can be conscious of trying to walk a little farther, putting in a few extra steps in our exercise routine. If solitary exercise sounds like a chore, group aerobic exercise classes, such as step, kick-boxing, or low-impact can be an exciting option.
To help with our health-conscious preventative tactics, we should be aware of maintaining good hygiene. This includes thorough hand washing with warm water and soap for at least 30 seconds to prevent spreading bacteria and viruses both to you and to others. We should routinely wash our hands after using the restroom, before handling food items, and after being in close contact with potentially sick individuals. Also, to be on the safe side, it is better to refrain from touching our eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
Finally, we should not forget the option of flu vaccines, particularly for high-risk individuals and those who will be in close contact with potentially ill individuals. You should try to schedule a flu shot if you are over the age of 65, if you have long-term health problems such as heart disease, lung disease, asthma or diabetes, or if you are a resident of an extended medical care facility.
Additionally, if you have a weakened immune system due to HIV or AIDS or if you are receiving extended cancer treatment or steroid treatments, then the flu shot should be on your list of things to do this season. Women who are pregnant, children between 6 and 59 months of age, and health care providers should also receive the flu vaccine. The flu shot should be available at your family doctor's office. Those who have severe allergic reactions to eggs should avoid the flu vaccine because the flu vaccine virus is grown in eggs and can possibly cause a reaction to those with egg allergies. Such individuals are advised to consult their physician first.
More information regarding the flu vaccine can be obtained online at www.cdc.gov/flu, at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 1.800.CDC-INFO, or by calling your local physician's office.
Dr. Al-Abdulla is a first year resident physician in the CMH Family Medicine Residency Program. Healthy Outlook, a periodic offering of CMH, includes information from several resources including the writer’s professional experience.