Somehow it’s November already, which means that we are heading into flu season! While you can get it year-round, in the US you’re more likely to get it in December through March (x). As someone on 4 immunosuppressants, I get very anxious about the flu and other illnesses, as my body can’t fight it. But while immunosuppressed people are more likely to get the flu, anyone can get it. Whether or not you have a suppressed immune system, you should take precautions to avoid getting the flu. With that in mind, I’ve pulled together this guide on how to stay healthy in flu season. Good luck!
As a reminder, I’m not a medical professional! My advice is from personal experience and research. I always cite my sources when I share things I’ve found on the Internet, and I make sure to share information from reputable sources.
How To Stay Healthy in Flu Season
Regularly wash your hands – You come in contact with so many germs during the day! It’s easy to remember to wash your hands after you use the bathroom or before you eat with your hands, but it’s harder to remember to do it in other situations. Over the course of my mornings, before I even get to my desk at work, I touch my MBTA card to the card reader (where thousands and thousands of people touch their cards), handles and seats on my bus, many door handles, my security card at work to multiple card readers, the coffee pot at my office, you get the idea. I don’t even want to know how many germs I come into contact with over the course of my 30-minute commute! Think about that can really gross you out, but it’s important to do so you can remember just how important it is to wash your hands. The CDC has a great 5-step guide of how to wash your hands, with the most important (to me) being that you need to lather them for 20 seconds.
Carry (and use) hand sanitizer – Without the opportunity to wash your hands, using hand sanitizer can also be helpful. The CDC recommends using a hand sanitizer with 60% alcohol, saying, “Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can quickly reduce the number of microbes on hands in some situations, but sanitizers do not eliminate all types of germs” (x). Another good thing to know is that “when hands are heavily soiled or greasy, hand sanitizers may not work well,” so they can’t replace washing your hands with soap and water (x). Additionally, hand sanitizer might not remove harmful chemicals like pesticides, so if you have the option to wash your hands instead, that’s the better choice (x).5 ways to reduce your chance of getting the flu Click To Tweet
Disinfect your technology – Think of all of the places your phone and laptop have been, of all the surfaces they’ve sat on or fallen onto. Think of all the times you’ve touched these things after touching something covered in germs, like a handle on the subway. Think of all of the sick people your technology has been near. Think of all the times you’ve dropped your phone on the ground. According to a Deloitte survey, “Americans are viewing their smartphones more often than ever before, on average 52 times per day” (x). And researchers at the University of Arizona found that “Cellphones carry 10 times more bacteria than most toilet seats” (x).
With that in mind, ask yourself, “When was the last time I disinfected my technology?” If you’re like most people, probably never. You should change that because, again, so. many. germs.
Get a mask if you’re at-risk – As I mentioned, my immune system is seriously suppressed. So suppressed that last year a stomach bug went around my dad’s office; he didn’t get it, but I did. Not only do I easily get sick, but when I do, I can’t fight it as much as someone not on these medications. I’m one of the people who could very easily die from the flu, so I take prevention very seriously. So seriously that I have masks that I wear when I have to go to the hospital! I carry one with me, too, so that I can put it on while commuting if someone near me is sick. Is that overkill? Not really; last year, I got a mystery illness that almost killed me.
But anyway. About the masks.
You can get a package of standard one at most drugstores. I personally have 2 Vogmasks because they’re reusable (and can be washed) and fun. They come in really fun colors and patterns!
Get your flu shot – This is one of the best things you can do to prevent the flu! It’s a small thing to do, it’s easy, and it’s so worth it. Don’t believe me? Keep reading.
Why You Should Get the Flu Shot
It can’t actually give you the flu – This is such a common misconception! The CDC says, “flu vaccines cannot cause flu illness. Flu vaccines given with a needle (i.e., flu shots) are currently made in two ways: the vaccine is made either with a) flu viruses that have been ‘inactivated’ (killed) and that therefore are not infectious, or b) using only a single gene from a flu virus (as opposed to the full virus) in order to produce an immune response without causing infection” (x). The vaccine can take 2 weeks to kick in, so if you get the flu within 2 weeks of getting the vaccine, it doesn’t mean that you got the flu from the shot (x). Plus, common side effects of the flu shot are headache, fever, and muscle soreness, all of which are symptoms of the flu (x). So just because you get flu-like symptoms after getting the vaccine doesn’t mean that you actually have the flu.
The flu kills many people every year – You’ve probably heard of the Spanish influenza and how tons of people died from it. But people die from the flu every year. In modern time, “flu-related deaths have ranged from about 12,000 to 56,000, according to the CDC” (x). That’s even with all of the modern medicine techniques we have now! But while that’s the average, in the 2017-2018 flu season, 80,000 people died from the flu (x).
And even more end up hospitalized – In the 2018-2019 flu season, an estimated 36-41 million Americans got the flu. Okay, that’s a lot, but that doesn’t mean much, right? Wrong. In that flu season, “the disease has hospitalized 502,000 to 610,000 patients and killed 34,400 to 57,300” (x). And trust me when I say that, as someone who goes to the ER far more often than I would like, they don’t just hospitalize people for no reason or just because they have the flu. You have to be really sick to be hospitalized.Why you should get the flu shot Click To Tweet
If you still get the flu, it won’t be as bad as if you didn’t get the vaccine – I know plenty of people who had said some version of, “I got the flu shot, but I still got the flu, so I’m not going to get it this year.” While I understand being frustrated with getting the flu even though you got the vaccine, the vaccine can actually prevent you from getting super ill even if you get the flu. The CDC says, “A 2017 study showed that flu vaccination reduced deaths, intensive care unit (ICU) admissions, ICU length of stay, and overall duration of hospitalization among hospitalized flu patients” (x). Additionally, “A 2018 study showed that among adults hospitalized with flu, vaccinated patients were 59 percent less likely to be admitted to the ICU than those who had not been vaccinated. Among adults in the ICU with flu, vaccinated patients on average spent 4 fewer days in the hospital than those who were not vaccinated” (x). To me, this makes the flu shot look even more appealing than it already did.
Plenty of people rely on the herd immunity – Hello, it’s me, your friendly neighborhood autoimmune patient on 4 immunosuppressant medications. Stay away from me if you haven’t gotten your flu shot! Additionally, while I am able to get the flu shot, there are people who can’t. This includes other people with suppressed immune systems, but it also includes babies, older people, and pregnant people. By refusing to get a flu shot, you are not just affecting yourself, but other people around you.
The flu shot is super easy to get – What’s great right now is that you can get the flu shot at lots of places and not just your doctor’s office! You can get it at CVS, Rite Aid, Walgreens, Walmart, Kroger, or and urgent care location. If you have insurance, you might be able to get your flu shot for free, and if not, it’s usually discounted (x). And it’s really quick! I’m a patient at MGH, and I got my flu shot for free at their annual clinic. It took 15 minutes, which is the longest it has ever taken, and I’ve gotten mine there since 2015.
So there you have it: getting the flu shot is a great thing to do, and it’s generally easy to do. You don’t have any excuses!
How are you staying safe this flu season?
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