Dr. Belkis Pimentel

After a long summer, Georgians are finally enjoying the crisp breezes associated with fall. Amid the excitement, people often forget one of autumn’s least-attractive qualities—the beginning of flu season.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 900,000 people across the country were hospitalized with the flu last year, which resulted in approximately 79,400 deaths. Last year’s numbers are higher than any other season since 2009. This reminds us how serious the flu can be. 

In 2018, Georgia was hit earlier and harder than most states. According to the Georgia Department of Public Health, 44 deaths were reported due to influenza. Additionally, the number of outpatient visits for flu-like symptoms was noticeably higher in Georgia at 7.4 percent versus 4.1 percent nationally at the peak of last year’s season. Flu season is here, and we are already seeing outpatient visits rise above was is typically normal for this time of year. Below are four ways to help you stay healthy and protect yourself and your loved ones from getting the flu:  

Beat the rush

An extra dose of vitamin C is no match for the flu. Traditionally, flu season peaks between December and February with some communities seeing multiple spikes during those months. It’s important to be immunized before the flu begins spreading in your community. It takes two weeks after getting the vaccine for antibodies that protect against flu to develop in the body, so now is the best time to get vaccinated. The CDC recommends those six months and older get the flu vaccine before the end of October, but it is never too late to get the shot.

It’s also worth noting children under the age of nine who are receiving the flu vaccine for the first time will need two doses, given at least four weeks apart. It’s a good idea to begin the process as early as possible.

Know your risk

Some individuals are more apt to get the flu than others. According to the CDC, pregnant women, children under 5 years of age, those 65 and over and immunocompromised individuals are all particularly susceptible to the flu and are more likely to have complications or die. Those who have kidney, blood, endocrine and liver disorders are also more likely to be infected. Also, those who live with or are around any of the most vulnerable populations just mentioned are also at increased risk.

When to see a doctor

Consult a doctor for fevers above 100 degrees, trouble breathing or if conditions worsen after two weeks. Those with a higher risk of flu complications should seek a doctor’s advice as soon as symptoms are detected, as antiviral medication may be necessary to combat illness for those with weakened immune systems.

Keep it to yourself

A person can be contagious with the flu for one or two days before showing symptoms and up to seven days after the first sign of illness. Those with the flu should avoid public interaction for at least 24 hours after a fever has broken to prevent spreading germs. It is always a good idea to call the advice line before visiting a clinic so as not to infect others. Hand washing and covering your cough decreases the risk of infecting others as well.

No one wants to spend the holidays with chills and body aches. Protect yourself and those around you by getting your flu shot today.   

 

Dr. Belkis Pimentel is Physician Program Director, Quality Performance and Population Health, and she is Kaiser Permanente of Georgia’s foremost expert in flu. She has been practicing since 1995. This is her tenth year with Kaiser Permanente and fifth year in this role.

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