Are you more likely to catch the flu this season? What about your family members or colleagues?
Knowing what boosts your odds of getting the illness can help you and those around you avoid it.
Skipping the Shot
Because the strain of flu virus changes over time, doctors come out with a new vaccine every year. So, it's important to stay current and get vaccinated each year -- preferably by November. But anytime before flu season begins or even during is good.
There's also a nasal flu vaccine called FluMist, which contains weakened live viruses. Don't get this nasal spray vaccine if you're pregnant, if you have HIV/AIDS or another medical condition that weakens your immune system. FluMist is approved for healthy people between 2 and 49 years old.
In addition, there is a “needle-less” option for people 18-64 years old: the jet injector vaccine with Afluria, which uses a tool with high pressure to deliver the vaccine.
Not Washing Your Hands
Frequent and thorough hand washing is key to keeping the flu away. Wash often during the day, and use warm water. Scrub them clean for about 20 seconds -- as long as it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice. Teach your family members to do the same.
Keep hand sanitizer with you at all times in case you can’t get to a sink.
Remember, the flu is spread by people who are already infected. The most common "hot spots" for the virus are surfaces that an infected person has touched and rooms where she's been recently, especially areas where the person has sneezed.
Not Taking Care of Yourself
Pregnant women have changes in their immune system, heart and lungs, which makes them vulnerable to more severe illness from the flu. The flu can also cause problems with the pregnancy and the baby.
The flu shot is safe for pregnant women and can be given in any trimester. The nasal vaccine should not be given to pregnant women.
Being a Kid
Children under 2 years old are at high risk for flu-related problems.
A youngster’s growing immune system is always fighting off new viruses and bacteria. It's normal for a tot to get as many as six to eight colds a year, along with ear and sinus infections, bronchitis, and croup.
A kid who’s often sick or who has a weak immune system is more likely to catch the flu and have complications with it.
How can you protect your child?
- Watch what he puts in his mouth.
- Wash teething rings, pacifiers, and other "mouth" toys often with soap and water, then dry them.
- Wash his hands with soap and water often.
- Replace his toothbrush frequently, and keep it apart from other family members' brushes.
Babies under 6 months can’t get flu shots. That means parents, family members, and caregivers should get vaccinated to protect little ones from the flu.
Being a Senior
As you age, your immune system weakens, and the flu can take more of a toll on you. Seniors also have a higher risk for getting other problems along with the flu.
Most people who wind up in the hospital or die from the flu are 65 or older. Folks in this age group are also more likely to have a long-term illness like heart disease, diabetes, or lung disease that make them more likely to get the flu.
A high-dose vaccine called Fluzone is recommended for those 65 and older. It has four times as much active ingredient as a regular flu shot. That means it can do a better job of getting an older immune system up and running.
Living in a Retirement Center
People who live in crowded places are more likely to get the flu. If you or a loved one is over 65, talk to a doctor about a flu shot plus the pneumococcal vaccines. It can protect you from more than 20 types of bacteria that cause serious diseases like meningitis, pneumonia, and blood infections.
If you’re a healthy adult over 65, you should get two different pneumococcal vaccines. The timing and sequence will vary.
Doctors may suggest this vaccine for some younger adults, particularly those with a higher risk for infections because of liver or heart disease, COPD, kidney failure, diabetes, cancer, and other chronic illnesses.