Influenza-Environmental Health & Safety - Carnegie Mellon University

Influenza

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tell us that each year in the United States, on average:

  • More than 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu complications.
  • 20,000 of those hospitalized are children younger than 5 years old.
  • 36,000 people die from flu.

Many of these cases were preventable if the following actions had been taken. We can reduce our susceptibility to the flu if we do the same.

First, if you haven’t done so already, get a flu shot. The CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine as the first and most important step in protecting against this serious disease. This is especially important if you are in one of the high risk categories, such as pregnant women, people with chronic health conditions like asthma, diabetes or heart or lung disease, and people 65 and older. The vaccine can protect you from getting sick from the three main viruses or it can make your illness milder if you get a different flu virus. If you live with or care for someone at high risk you should also get a flu vaccine to protect their high-risk contact.

Second, take good preventive actions. Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, then throw the tissue in the trash. Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze, or use an alcohol-based hand cleaner. Avoid contact with those exhibiting symptoms. And refrain from touching your eyes, nose, or mouth to avoid spreading germs.

Finally, if you get the flu, take antiviral drugs if your physician recommends them. These are prescription medicines that fight the flu by keeping flu viruses from reproducing. It should be emphasized, however, that these are not substitutions for getting the vaccine in the first place. Antiviral medicines work best if taken within two days of the onset of symptoms.