GLOUCESTER, VA –It's still that time of year –time to take your best shot at beating the flu and getting through the season illness free. That's the message Riverside Health System's Walter Reed Hospital and Middle Peninsula region are sharing as flu season continues across the country and community.

"The flu is not something to take lightly," said Walter Reed's Infection Prevention Manager Susan Haden, BSN, RN. "I always say the benefits of getting a flu shot greatly outweigh the risk, and that getting a shot is not as bad as getting the flu. Even if you think you are healthy and young and not at risk for flu complications, get the shot. It's about protecting people around you who could die from the flu."

While Riverside Walter Reed's flu shot clinic was held last fall, it still remains a good time of the year to get a flu shot. Flu season typically runs from October through April, Haden said. "If you get the flu vaccine you don't have immediate protection," Haden said. "It takes about two weeks for antibodies to develop."

While Haden helps educate the community all year long about the flu and other infectious diseases, it's this time of year when people really start honing in on the virus, she said. Her best advice boils down to these four tips:

  • Vaccinate early.
  • Protect your family.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Wash your hands.
Haden explained that there a lot of misconceptions remain about the flu. For one, she said, "people often mistake that the flu is a stomach bug when it's actually a respiratory illness. People may get GI symptoms, which are more common in children with the flu, but you don't have to have stomach issues to still have the flu." Flu symptoms typically come in the form of a fever, running nose, cough, headache and body ache, coupled with chills and tiredness.

Flu prevention should extend beyond the vaccine, Haden said, and everyone can play a role. "Always make sure your child learns about hand hygiene early," Haden said. "Give them their own hand sanitizer. Basic hygiene tools can pay off for a long time in their lives, not just during flu season." Children who do contract the flu must stay home from school. "I understand how hard that can be with working parents, but if your child has a fever, even a low grade fever, they should stay home," Haden said, adding that that goes for adults heading to work, too. "When should they go back to school? They should be off of medicine or have been fever free for 24 hours, as well as tolerating food and liquids."

Most people who get the flu can bounce back in four or five days. While treatment isn't generally needed for the flu, any child who does not show signs of improvement or goes downhill should come to the emergency department, Haden said. Businesses should make sure hand hygiene dispensers are available and that they disinfect common areas throughout an office regularly. If you missed the flu shot clinic or had the flu already this year and don't think you need to be vaccinated, Haden said think again. "Some people think that once they have the flu they don't need to get vaccinated since they already had it," Haden said. "That's not true. There are different strains of the flu. Just because you had it once doesn't mean you are protected for the season."

Published: February 15, 2016