On Your Health

Check back to the INTEGRIS On Your Health blog for the latest health and wellness news for all Oklahomans.

Let's Take on Cold and Flu Season

It’s that time of year. Each day another friend, coworker or child seems to be coming down with something. How can you avoid a cold and flu altogether?

Oklahoma and the Flu

30 September 2016

Posted in

Sneezing, sniffling and coughing -- weather changes often bring an influx of ailments, but how do you know when it’s more serious than a common cold? Influenza results in more than 200,000 hospitalizations and 36,000 deaths in the United States annually, and infects up to 20 percent of the population every year. Spread primarily through coughs and sneezes, cases of the flu can range from mild to severe. While the flu normally peaks in February, flu activity usually begins around October and can last as late as May. So what are your best methods to prevent the flu?

How to prevent the flu

If you’d prefer to remain healthy and happy this season instead of feeling ill (and who doesn’t) the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a yearly flu vaccine as your best course of action. Every year the strain of the flu virus changes, so even if you had a flu shot last year, you’ll have to get a new one this year to combat the current strain of the disease. The CDC recommends everyone older than 6 months receive a flu shot before the end of October, especially those who may have a high risk of a severe reaction to the illness. This may include young children, pregnant women, and people with certain health conditions. If you are not sure if you are a high-risk patient, ask your doctor. Chronic medical conditions also can increase your risk of influenza complications. Examples include:
  • Asthma
  • Cancer or cancer treatment
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Diabetes
  • Kidney or liver disease
  • Obesity
According to the CDC, in past flu seasons when the match between the flu vaccine and circulating strains of flu virus is close, a flu shot is 71 percent effective in reducing flu-related hospitalizations among adults of all ages, and 77 percent effective among adults age 50 and older. The flu shot may reduce a child's risk by 74 percent. Other than the flu shot, there are several precautions you should take during flu season.
  • Avoid close contact with individuals suffering from the flu.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and warm water.
  • Avoid touching your mouth, nose, and eyes to prevent the spread of germs.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces in your house and workplace often to kill germs.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, or cough into your elbow if a tissue is not available.

Symptoms of the flu

So you’ve done everything you’re supposed to do, but you’re still not feeling up to par? While the symptoms may be similar, here’s how to tell the difference between the flu and a common cold:

chart showing the differences between the flu and cold

What to do if you have the flu

If you do get the flu, you may or may not need to visit your doctor. People in high-risk groups should call their doctor as soon as they suspect they have the flu. However, people who do not have a high risk for dangerous flu symptoms might not need to see the doctor. If you are experiencing only mild symptoms, stay home and avoid contact with other people to prevent the spread of the illness. Be sure to drink a lot of fluids because it’s easy to become dehydrated, and take over-the-counter flu medications. If you belong to a high-risk group or are experiencing moderate-to-severe symptoms, do not delay in visiting your physician. Your doctor will be able to prescribe the appropriate medicines for your condition. If you’re unsure about going to see the doctor, go ahead and make that appointment, because if the flu is treated in its early stages, it may be easier to combat. According to the CDC, antiviral drugs work best if they are started within two days of contracting the flu, so time is of the essence.