The end of summer marks the beginning of many seasonal activities such as football, school, fall festivals and, yes, the flu. While the 2011-12 flu season doesn’t have a specific launch date, it can begin as early as September or October, so now is the time to start your flu-protection plan.
Influenza is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. The first line of protection is the seasonal flu vaccine. Each year, the vaccine is designed with three components selected to protect against three main groups of influenza viruses circulating among humans. The decision of which viruses should be included is made by the US Food and Drug Administration based on studies by the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The CDC recommends everyone 6 months of age and older get vaccinated against the flu. The vaccine is available as an injection or nasal spray. In addition to your physician’s office, there are many outlets offering the vaccine.
The Anne Arundel County Department of Health provides free flu vaccine clinics. The department also gives the nasal spray flu vaccine to all students in Anne Arundel County public schools. Grocery pharmacies in Crofton and Gambrills, such as , , and , offer the vaccine for prices ranging from $29 to $34.
But, in addition to the vaccination, what other steps can you take to stay healthy during flu season? Dr. Jim Rice of Annapolis Pediatrics shared pediatricians’ secrets in an interview this week at the practice’s Waugh Chapel office.
“The proven, single-most effective way to protect yourself is washing your hands,” Dr. Rice said. “That may sound trite but it has been repeatedly shown to make the biggest difference. It is the pediatrician’s secret to staying healthy.”
Hand sanitizers are popular, and can be used when soap and water are not readily available but after sequential uses, Dr. Rice recommends going back to the sink for a thorough washing.
Diet also plays a role in the condition of your immune system. In lieu of focusing on so-called “power” foods to boost immunity, Dr. Rice recommends balance.
“In my experience there is not a single food that can be labeled a ‘super food’ when it comes to overall immune system health. It really all goes back to what your mother told you when you were young: eat a good variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, get your protein and take sweets and fatty foods in moderation.”
And another gem from the pages of maternal wisdom bears true: a good night’s sleep will make you feel better. A Harvard Medical School study showed that sleep deprivation alters immune function.
Also, ensuring you are well-hydrated in the cold, dry winter months is important in fighting off illness. For example, without adequate fluid-intake the lining of the nose can become dry and cracked and more susceptible to viruses.