Don't Wait for the Flu to Hit: Prevention is Key

July 2, 2018

LEAWOOD - It starts off as a tiny sneeze, maybe a slight headache. The weather is changing, and, after all, you have allergies. You're definitely not getting sick. But before you know it, you're in bed with body aches so bad, it feels like you've been hit by a truck. And it happened so quickly. You have a temperature, and the last thing you want to do is eat.

This isn't the transition to fall or the pollen: This is the flu, and it could have been prevented.

"The best way to fight the flu is with a flu shot, before you get sick," said Michael Munger, MD, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians. "Remember, you don't get the flu from the flu shot, and it's one of the easiest ways you can keep you and your family healthy."

The flu vaccine typically becomes available each fall before flu activity peaks, which is typically between December and February. But flu season can last as late as May, according to the CDC. Check with your family physician to see when you can come in for your flu shot, and all health care insurers even pay for it. If you don't receive a flu shot in your doctor's office, remember to let your doctor know where you received one.

"There are also other preventive measures you can take," said Veronica Anwuri, MD, a family physician practicing in Kansas City, Missouri. "Always wash your hands with soap and water. And cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve, not your hands; eat well, and get plenty of rest."

If your doctor diagnoses you with the flu, antiviral drugs are available by prescription that when taken quickly enough following onset, can help reduce flu symptoms and shorten the time you are sick. Other over-the-counter medications that can help include acetaminophen, which can reduce fever and help with the body aches. For children, Anwuri does not recommend nasal sprays or decongestants; the same advice goes for cough and cold medication, as there is little evidence that these are effective in treating children with the flu.

But, hopefully it doesn't come to that: Remember, prevention is key, and the flu shot is the best way to keep you and your family healthy before flu season arrives.