The holiday season brings celebrations with lots of food, fun, friends and family. If you are lucky, you might get to bring home leftovers. If you are not so lucky, you might bring home a cold, or worse, the flu.
If you have put off getting the vaccination, for any number of reasons, now is the time to reconsider. As long as flu viruses are circulating, it's not too late to get vaccinated.
National Influenza Vaccination Week was Dec. 7-13. But that's just the national observance, established in 2005 to highlight the importance of continuing influenza vaccination. Any time during flu season is a good time to get the vaccination and protect your family.
Studies have shown that flu vaccination activity drops quickly after the end of November. However, the flu doesn't go on hiatus or vacation after the end of November. The fact is that incidence rates of new cases of the flu increases after Thanksgiving and usually peaks between December and January - right in the midst of all our holiday activities and parties.
We travel for Thanksgiving so, inevitably, one of the children (and maybe even one of the adults) gets sick. Just in time for the start of all the holiday activities. But think about it: we are in a different environment, eating different foods, out of our routine, and not getting as much sleep as usual. Sounds like a holiday party to me... especially for all those germs.
Flu vaccination can reduce flu illnesses, doctors' visits, missed work and school due to flu, as well as prevent flu-related hospitalizations. The flu vaccine protects against three or four different flu viruses expected to circulate each season. Flu viruses are always changing so a new vaccine is made each year. Keep in mind, however, that it takes about two weeks after vaccination for the immune system to build the antibodies the body needs to provide protection against the flu.
The CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine for everyone 6 months of age and older. Vaccination is especially important for people who are at high risk for developing flu-related complications such as young children, pregnant women, people with certain chronic health conditions like asthma, diabetes, or heart and lung disease, and people age 65 years and older.
Flu vaccines are offered in many locations, including doctor's offices, clinics, health departments, retail stores, and pharmacies.
In observation of National Influenza Vaccination Week, the Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale County Health Departments will offer reduced cost flu vaccines through December 31 at regional clinics including the Newton Health Center and Rockdale Health Center. To find a location near you, go to gnrhealth.com/locations.
Getting vaccinated is the best way to protect against the flu virus. But there are basic healthy habits you can do to protect again the spread of germs, especially during this busy holiday season:
• Wash hands. Wash hands frequently and carefully with soap and water. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds, or sing the "Happy Birthday" song twice (or maybe Jingle Bells for this time of year). Make sure children and toddlers also wash their hands.
• Avoid touching your face. Keep hands away from your eyes, nose and mouth. Germs spread this way.
• Clean and disinfect surfaces. If a surface or object has been contaminated by someone with the flu it is important to clean and disinfect that surface or object.
• Get enough sleep. If you are run down, you are less likely to be able to fight on infection of any kind.
• Stay home if sick. Unless you are Michael Jordan playing in Game 5 against the Utah Jazz, if you have flu-like symptoms, stay home. The CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever has gone. Leave the house only for medical care or to access necessities.
So get yourself vaccinated if you haven't already. And practice healthy habits to eliminate the spread of germs. Maybe we can enjoy all our holiday activities without getting sick and avoid the New Year's Resolution of "Get my flu shot before I get the flu."