Tips to Avoid the Flu this Holiday Season

It’s that time of year again, not just the holidays but also flu season. HSHS St. Elizabeth’s Hospital wants everyone to be prepared for the flu this year and understand how to stay healthy and reduce the risk of spreading the flu, especially as you attend holiday family and party activities.  

Flu seasons vary in severity depending on a number of factors including the characteristics of circulating viruses, the timing of the season, how well the vaccine is protecting against influenza infection, and how many people get vaccinated. While the numbers often vary, in the United States, millions of people are sickened, hundreds of thousands are hospitalized and thousands or tens of thousands of people die from flu every year. In fact, last year was a particularly bad flu season with 80,000 deaths in the US alone; the deadliest in four decades.

The flu usually does not progress into any life-threatening diseases, but it can be more serious if caught by an infant, an elderly person or someone with preexisting health problems. Unfortunately there is no known cure for the flu virus once contracted, but it is important to be informed about how to prevent yourself and your family from getting and spreading it. 

 “Prevention of flu is crucial,” according to Infection Prevention Manager Stephanie Thannum, RN, MS-HCNA, CIC, at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital. “Take the time to invest in your health and the health of your family. The investment is as simple as getting a flu vaccine, covering your cough, getting rest and using proper hand hygiene.” 

Thannum recommends the following health tips to prevent or slow the spread of the flu this season. 

• Get your yearly flu shot. The best form of influenza prevention is the flu vaccine. It’s best to get the vaccine in the early autumn months, but it is also available throughout the winter. Everyone six months and older should receive a vaccination.

• Wash your hands.  Hand washing is one of the best practices you can adopt to keep both colds and the flu from spreading. When soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

• Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue. Using a tissue helps keep germs from spreading to yourself and others.  If you don’t have a tissue or cloth, cough or sneeze into the inside of your elbow or upper arm.

• Stay home if you are feeling sick.  If you or your kids get sick, stay home from work or school and limit contact with others to keep from infecting them. Conversely, avoid close contact with anyone who appears to be sick. Continue to stay home until fever free for 24 hours without the use of fever reducers. 

• Avoid sharing objects such as utensils, cups, bottles and telephones.  If you must share, disinfect the objects before using them.

• Stay active. Regular exercise, especially vigorous exercise, will keep your body healthy.

• Eat more fruits and vegetables.  Eating oranges and other vitamin C-rich fruits and vegetables is a great way to support your immune system.  

• Drink plenty of water. Water simultaneously flushes out your system, rids you of infected germs and rehydrates you. If you already have the flu, make sure you don’t get dehydrated.

• Get enough sleep.  Getting enough sleep is very important when it comes to assisting your body in fighting off infections. Sleep gives you more strength and helps your body get rid of the virus more quickly.

St. Elizabeth’s also takes extra precautions within the hospital during flu season to further protect patients.  The hospital, and all of the entities within Hospital Sisters Health System (HSHS), have a policy in place for all colleagues to be vaccinated to reduce the risk of influenza disease and transmission. There are allowed exemptions. Colleagues are allowed to decline vaccination due to medical reasons or religious beliefs. For those colleagues who decline, they are required to wear a mask within the facility when flu activity levels are high. 

“The time to mask is decided between information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), state and local health departments, and our own internal flu testing,” Thannum said. “This important policy is in place for the safety of our patients, visitors and colleagues.”

The hospital also provides respiratory etiquette stations at hospital entrances, which have tissues, masks, and sanitizing hand gel for visitors.  

The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) provides local flu activity information at http://dph.illinois.gov/topics-services/diseases-and-conditions/influenza/surveillance and national activity information is available at https://www.cdc.gov/flu/weekly/fluactivitysurv.htm.