Flu season: Simple ways to protect yourself and others

Monday, February 4, 2013
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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said this could be the worst flu season since 2009, and we haven't even reached the typical peak of the season, which often comes in January or February.

According to the CDC, by Jan. 11, flu activity was high across most of the United States. Based on past experience, it's likely that flu activity will continue for some time.

Jane Wernsman, executive director of the Cape Girardeau County Health Center, said as of Dec. 31, the number of cases in the county was slightly higher than the same time frame in 2011. There were 222 cases of laboratory confirmed influenza B, "primarily in the 4- to 5- and 15- to 25-year age groups," Wernsman says.

With such a hard-hitting flu, it's more important than ever to take precautions, especially for the 65-and-older age group. According to the CDC, it's estimated that 90 percent of seasonal flu-related deaths and more than 60 percent of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations in the United States each year occur in people 65 years and older. This is because human immune defenses become weaker with age, so influenza can be a very serious disease for people 65 and older.

Each time a person coughs or sneezes, respiratory droplets containing germs are expelled from the body. An uncovered sneeze can spread droplets several feet away from the source, putting everyone in the general vicinity at risk. Here are some tips from Wernsman to prevent the spread of germs and keep yourself healthy:

> Sneeze the right way: Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, or cough/sneeze in the crook of the arm.

> Wash your hands frequently: "Wash your hands often with soap and water or use hand sanitizer," Wernsman says. "Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth, as germs spread that way." If you use a hand sanitizer, the CDC recommends using one that is at least 60 percent alcohol.

> Stay home: "If you are sick with flu-like illness, stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone, except to get medical care or for other necessities," Wernsman advises. And if you aren't sick, try to avoid close contact with those who are.

BrandPoint Content contributed to this report.

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Proper hand-washing technique

> Wet your hands with clean running water (warm or cold) and apply soap.

> Rub your hands together to make a lather and scrub them well; be sure to scrub the backs of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails.

> Continue rubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the "Happy Birthday" song from beginning to end twice.

> Rinse your hands well under running water.

> Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry.

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