This year, get a gift to protect your whole family: get a flu shot!

Your family is gathering for a holiday meal. Your five grandchildren – from toddlers to ten year-olds – are zooming around the kitchen looking for the snacks and snicker doodles. The youngest has the sniffles and you hoist her to your hip and give her a kiss, and then the 4 year-old wants one, too. Pretty soon, there’s a group hug in the kitchen.

If one of your grandchildren has the flu – even if she doesn’t have symptoms yet – you could get it, too. And then you could infect someone else, who could infect someone else, and so on and so on.

It’s not too late to get a flu shot

One way you can protect yourself from getting the flu – and protect the people around you at the same time – is to get a flu shot.

Getting the flu shot is easy. You can go to your doctor, or you can take advantage of walk-in times at most pharmacies, including pharmacies at large grocery stores. Most health insurance plans provide a flu shot at no cost. You can find places to get a flu shot at www.211maine.org or call 211, or you can search your zipcode at  http://flushot.healthmap.org/ or http://www.cdc.gov/flu/

The flu is here – it arrived early in Maine this year, in September. But it’s not too late to get a flu shot. Flu season usually runs through April or May, so getting a flu shot now will protect you. It usually takes about two weeks after you get the shot for you to be protected from getting the flu.

 It’s not all about you

The flu is serious business. People with the flu can be hospitalized, and they can even die. Complications from the flu include pneumonia, inflammation of the heart or brain, and sepsis. People at greatest risk from complications include the elderly, young children, pregnant women, and people with conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and lung diseases.

So when you get a flu shot, you are helping to protect people at risk as well as yourself. Because children are less careful about washing their hands, it’s especially important for them to be protected so they don’t pass the flu on to elderly grandparents and younger siblings.

What else can you do?

The flu is contagious – people who have the flu can pass it on to others by touching (especially with their hands), and by sneezing and coughing. The flu virus can live in the air or on skin or hard surfaces like counter tops and unwashed dishes for just a few minutes or several hours (depending on the surface).

If you have been exposed to the flu virus, you don’t have to feel sick to pass it on to someone else. You might pass it on before you know you are sick. You can also be infected with the flu virus but have no symptoms, and during that time you may still infect other people.

To prevent getting the flu, you can

  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water, but especially after coughing and sneezing. Alcohol-based hand gels can also be used.
  • Avoid touching your nose, mouth, and eyes. Germs can spread this way.
  • Get a flu shot.
  • Consult your health care provider about getting a pneumococcal vaccine (to protect from some types of pneumonia) for anyone who is younger than 5, between ages 5 and 64 with high risk conditions, or age 65 and older.
  • Avoid contact with sick people. If you are at very high risk for complications, you may want to avoid large crowds.

If you have the flu, you should

  • Stay home if you are sick, until you are fever-free for a full 24 hours without taking fever-reducing medicine.
  • Cough and sneeze into your elbow or into a tissue. Throw the tissue away.

Although most people can stay home to recover without seeing a health care provider, it is possible for healthy people to develop severe illness from the flu. Anyone with the flu should seek medical attention for dehydration, trouble breathing, getting better, then suddenly getting a lot worse, and any major change in condition

Learn more at the Maine CDC. http://www.maine.gov/dhhs/mecdc/infectious-disease/epi/influenza/maineflu/consumer.shtml#generalinfo2 or the Centers for Disease Control https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/season/current.htm

Alison Webb

About Alison Webb

Alison Webb is a public health consultant with over 20 years experience in community outreach, grassroots organizing, implementing and evaluating evidence-based programs, and advocating for healthy policies at the Maine State Legislature. Alison is especially interested in what science tells us about promoting health and wellness and how we can apply that to live well in Maine. The blog describes recent public health research and give readers insights into how to use that knowledge to lead healthy lives.