Most years, as the heat of summer tails off into the cooler breezes of fall, few of us give our first thoughts to the oncoming flu season and how to prepare for it ahead of time. Perhaps more telling, even following years where influenza seasons were severe, the memory tends to fade before the sometimes striking prevention reminders begin to appear.
You can thank any yearly calendar for those.
By and large, flu season lasts approximately 13 weeks, starting in October or November—generally reaching its apex in January or February—then, tapering off through the end of April and sometimes May. Yet, exceptions to that general rule are common. For example, the 2018-19 influenza season was not only labelled “moderately severe,” it actually spanned 21-weeks, making it the longest flu season in 10 years, according to the CDC.
More strikingly, from October 1, 2018 through March 30, 2019, there were between 33.2 million to 38.1 million cases of influenza reported in the U.S., representing highs of 549,000 hospitalizations and 50,900 deaths, respectively.
The Best Defense is a Good Offense: The Flu Shot
While disease of influenza is commonly referred in shorthand as “the flu,” the abbreviation does nothing to shorten recovery times, particularly to adults aged 65-or-older, who are at generally greater risk. In fact, the majority of flu-related hospital visits, as well as flu-related deaths occur in that age group.
Still, anyone at any age can catch the flu. Those who have been lucky enough to “dance between the raindrops,” can hardly consider themselves immune from contracting the disease—one that continues to mutate and often strengthen with each new strain. Scientists have fought this battle since the early 1940’s with the first flu shots, but modern-day, flu shot formulations now offer the best available defense against the most common species of the virus (A and B), as well as more rare C and D manifestations.
Even better news comes from breakthrough trivalent vaccines which combine two strains of the influenza A virus and one strain of influenza B to prompt the development of antibodies in the immune system. Made from a mix of inactivated virus or lab-made particles that mirror it to the immune system, flu vaccines can only prevent the flu—they cannot cause it. For the most part, yearly flu shots are between 40% and 60% effective.
Fundamentals in Flu Survival: Preparation and Perseverance
Few things can knock the wind out of otherwise healthy people like flu symptoms. The coughs, sore throats, body aches, fatigue, and even some stomach flu-related conditions, like vomiting and diarrhea, can really do a number on the body. However, while you can’t always prevent the unexpected, you always can prepare.
Most pharmacists will tell you that any shortlist should include medications like acetaminophen, ibuprofen or aspirin to treat fevers. It also stands to reason to keep supplemental OTC products like saline drops, cold and sinus meds, cough drops, and antiviral treatments, as well as a good thermometer on hand.
Always Use an Ounce (or More) of Protection
If you can stop the spread of germs before it starts, you’ll put yourself that much more ahead of the game. In that regard, making a regular habit out of using hand sanitizers and keeping surfaces in the home clean are prerequisites of every flu survival strategy. Just as importantly, there’s only an upside to stocking up on juices, teas, and canned soups. Similarly, everyone should strive to exercise, eat a balanced diet, get plenty of sleep and limit stress levels.
Easier said than done, no doubt. But far better done than said. Your friends at Benzer Pharmacy can help.
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Image provided in thanks to the American Academy of Pediatrics