Posted by Randy Berger on Jan. 4, 2017

The wintery season makes it the perfect time for warm sweaters, hot mugs of cocoa – and seasonal influenza. Commonly referred to as the flu, influenza is a contagious respiratory illness caused by the flu virus. According to Cindy Robertson, infection prevention director at CoxHealth, oftentimes people will confuse the common cold with the flu. However, the flu is a very serious illness.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that on average each year in the U.S., 5 to 20 percent of the population gets the flu and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from seasonal flu-related complications. Flu symptoms often include fever, body aches, fatigue and cough. 

Compared to the common cold, these symptoms are typically much more intense and will last one to two weeks with the flu.

“While the flu is a serious illness, the good news is, it is easy to protect yourself,” says Robertson. “Immunization is a person’s No. 1 line of defense against the virus.”

The CDC recommends everyone six months and older receive an annual flu vaccination with rare exception.

“The flu vaccine can prevent the flu or greatly reduce its severity and ultimately reduce flu-related hospitalizations and deaths,” Robertson says. “Getting vaccinated is easier now than it ever has been with many local pharmacies offering the vaccine, and all CoxHealth primary care providers have the vaccine available. If a person does receive the vaccination outside of their primary care provider’s office, they should just let their provider’s office know.”

While the flu vaccine is a person’s best line of defense against the seasonal flu, good health habits can also protect you against the flu.

“Those good health habits that protect you from the common cold and other viruses also help prevent the spread of flu,” Robertson says.

 · Try to avoid close contact with anyone who is ill

· Limit contact with others when you are sick

· If you have been ill with flu-like symptoms, stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone, except to get medical care or for other necessities

· Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze

· Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water is not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer

· Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth

· Clean and disinfect surfaces and items that may be contaminated with germs

But what to do if you get the flu? If you’re located in the state of Missouri, you don’t even need to leave your home to be treated. Simply use DirectConnect, CoxHealth’s telemedicine tool, to reach a provider via your smartphone or other video-enabled device. For more information, click here.