Flu season 2018 in full swing

Three essential tips for preventing illness this flu season

The H3N2 Influenza Virus strain is one of the most prevalent this flu season, but also the strain that the vaccine is least able to prevent.

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The H3N2 Influenza Virus strain is one of the most prevalent this flu season, but also the strain that the vaccine is least able to prevent.

It’s officially the height of winter here in Virginia, and, unfortunately, also the height of the 2017-18 flu season. The influenza virus season usually lasts from October to early spring, typically April or May. Usually, the virus peaks around February, but the flu strains this year have already reached official epidemic levels, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). The flu virus, particularly the strain H3N2, has been spreading faster and farther than it has in recent years, already reaching “widespread” infection levels in all 49 Continental States (Hawaii is still at “regional” level). In addition to the virus strains spreading more voraciously, this year’s flu is also responsible for high percentages of hospitalizations, and it can often take weeks to recover from the illness. With months of the flu season still left to go and the virus more prevalent and dangerous than it has been for many years, avoiding the illness can seem impossible. However, taking the following three tips to heart could save you a lot of sick days and tissues in the coming weeks.

Tip #1: Washing your hands really is important

“Washing your hands is one of the single most important steps you can take in preventing the spread of everyday common person-to-person germs or infections,” said Robin James, a registered nurse at Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC). James recommends washing your hands well for 20-30 seconds- making sure to wash your hands after sneezing or coughing, after using the restroom, after leaving a room with someone who is ill, and before preparing food. Previous studies have determined that washing your hands could prevent 97% of germs and infections being spread from person to person.

Tip #2: Get the flu or pneumonia vaccines – they are worth it

“When the flu or pneumonia vaccines are introduced into the body, it creates antibodies. These antibodies provide protection against infection using strains of viruses that are in the vaccine,” said James. It should be mentioned that getting a vaccine cannot ensure that you won’t catch the flu or pneumonia. Vaccines do, however, ensure that if you do happen to catch the illness, your case of flu or pneumonia will not be as severe, and the recovery time will be much faster. Even when vaccines aren’t fully effective (like this year’s influenza vaccine, which is estimated to be about 30% effective in preventing the flu), it is still important to get the vaccine to protect yourself and those around you from severe illness. Most of the reported cases of influenza this year came from individuals who did not take the precaution of getting the vaccine.

Tip #3: Wearing shorts in the winter is an awful idea

Dressing appropriately for the weather is essential for staying healthy during the winter season. Winter weather in Hampton Roads can often be confusing; one day it’s 60 degrees outside and sunny, and the next day it’s 27 degrees and snowing. However, people who don’t dress appropriately for the weather conditions are more prone to illness because they may be exposing themselves to extreme coldness without protective clothing, which in turn makes them more susceptible to catching an illness. The best way to deal with fickle temperatures and crazy weather conditions in winter is to dress in layers, that way you can adjust your clothing to your environment throughout the day. If you do not want to get sick, it’s probably a good idea to put those shorts away when the temperature reads less than 60.