It’s flu season in Cincinnati. Although influenza is present year-round in the environment, in temperate climates like the Midwest, infections are usually more prevalent during the winter months, because people stay indoors — closer proximity to others yields higher transmission rates.
So what should seniors in Cincinnati do to prepare for flu season? Much.
Today, let’s take a look at four things you should be doing to keep yourself health and flu-free in 2017.
1. Get your flu vaccine yearly, without fail
You’ve probably heard a lot in the last decade or so about the necessity of getting your yearly flu shot. You’ve probably also heard that the flu shot isn’t 100 percent effective.
That’s because the flu shot each year represents science’s best guess about which of the many and ever-mutating flu virus strains will be most common in each locality in a given year. Unfortunately, flu vaccine batches take about a year to produce, so coverage is a bit hit-or-miss.
Although data capture and population health analysis continue to improve, we’re still realizing only about 25 percent vaccine efficacy each year. So why bother?
Because repeated flu vaccinations probably improve your immunity for much more than a year at a time.
There’s intriguing evidence now that flu vaccinations taken in series result in broader immunity over time, because acquired immunity against one strain in a flu group may provide cross-coverage immunity for other variants in the same group.
Say, for example, that one year you receive a vaccination centered on the A-type “swine flu” strain (H1N1). The next year, you receive a flu vaccine that hedges against an anticipated B-type flu strain, but that strain ends up not being the most common variant in the environment in that year.
Instead, another A-type flu — slightly different from H1N1 — is the prevalent circulating strain. But because you were previously vaccinated against the prior A-type strain, some of the antibodies still in your body also provide you with resistance to the new flu A strain. Over time, the effect may be cumulative.
Scientists first noticed it in the mid-20th century, when older people who had suffered the 1918 “Spanish flu” epidemic — a particularly nasty flu A strain related to 2009’s “swine flu” — were less susceptible than young people to the 1957 “Asian flu” and 1968 “Hong Kong flu,” also A-type strains.
Scientists surmised that people who had survived the Spanish influenza pandemic retained, even decades later, some residual immunity to other A-type strains.
The long and the short? Get vaccinated. Every year. Never miss one. You’re probably keeping yourself safer over time. And when you get vaccinated, ask your doctor for the injected version.
Although it’s more painful relative to the inhaled vaccine, the injection uses dead (inactive) flu virus, whereas the inhaled version relies on a weakened-but-live (attenuated) virus. The injected version might give you some flu-like symptoms, but it can’t give you the flu itself; with the inhaled version, there’s a small but real risk of actually developing contagious flu.
2. Wash your hands often
Flu viruses are transmitted by two primary vectors: through the air in aerosolized droplets of saliva or nasal discharge, or via contact with contaminated surfaces.
Hand soap doesn’t kill flu viruses, but it does encapsulate virus (just like laundry detergent) and makes them easier to wash off through the mechanical actions of flowing water and hand-rubbing. The more often you wash your hands, the fewer viruses will likely be present on them.
3. Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze
And don’t cover them with your hands, if you can avoid it — you’ll just transfer germs to your hands and then onto surfaces that other people will touch later.
Instead, cover with the interior crook of your elbow. That’s a surface of your body that is unlikely to touch a bunch of tables, doorknobs, or countertops through the course of the day. The viruses will then be washed off your shirt when you do the laundry.
4. Get plenty of rest and proper nutrition
The better you care for your body, the better your ability to fight off infections. Make sure you’re getting seven to nine hours of rest every night. Avoid excess caffeine and leave yourself plenty of wind-down time before bed.
Take a water-soluble multi-vitamin daily (if your doctor advises you it’s safe) and eat plenty of fresh produce. Stick to lean meats and avoid processed foods whenever you can.
This season, tell the flu to bug off.
Avoid eating, drinking, or wiping your eyes and nose without first washing your hands, and remember to wash your hands again after you eat, drink, or touch your body’s mucous membranes.
Be mindful about covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze. If you’re coughing a lot, wear a face mask to prevent transmission. It may look silly, but you’d be doing the general public a serious solid. It’s just good citizenship!