The flu is already hitting southern states hard, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC reported that South Carolina and 11 other mostly southern states – Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Washington – are reporting high influenza-like activity.
Four people in South Carolina have died from flu-related illnesses, according to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control. The agency reported 164 flu-related hospitalizations and 163 lab-confirmed cases so far during the 2019-2020 season.
Although many people who come down with the flu recover from the virus in as little as a few days, it can lead to serious and sometimes fatal complications – even among otherwise healthy individuals.
Preventing the flu
The good news is there are steps you can take to protect yourself from the disease. The most important precaution is to receive a flu vaccine, which can prevent the illness or reduce the severity of the symptoms if you become ill.
With few exceptions, everyone 6 months of age and older should get a flu vaccine, said Dr. Roxanne Latimer, a family medicine physician at Tidelands Health Medical Park at The Market Common in Myrtle Beach.
The vaccine, which takes about two weeks to become effective, is particularly important for people at high risk of complications including individuals 65 and older, pregnant women and people with certain chronic medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes and heart disease.
“We say it every year – get that flu vaccine,” Dr. Latimer says. “It’s a message worth repeating. The flu vaccine, which is quick and simple to receive, is the best way to prevent the flu.”
Hygiene is important
Another tip for preventing the flu is to pay close attention to hygiene. Avoid close contact with people who are sick, regularly wash your hands and avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth, a common way germs are often spread after a person touches a contaminated object.
“We cannot emphasize enough how important hand washing is,” says Angela Harris, infection control manager at Tidelands Health. “We know that people who properly wash their hands stand a significantly better chance of avoiding the illness than those who do not.”
Harris suggests people follow the CDC’s five-step approach:
- Wet your hands with clean, running water
- Lather your hands thoroughly and completely by rubbing them together with the soap
- Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds
- Rinse your hands well under clean, running water
- Dry your hands using a clean towel or air drier.
Individuals with questions about the flu, or those interested in receiving a flu vaccine, are encouraged to contact their health care provider.