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Rod Brouhard, EMT  P

'Tis the Season to be Sick

By January 9, 2013

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It looks like we're in for a doozy of a flu season this year. The CDC reports that flu activity is almost as high as what is typically the peak of a moderately severe season, but it's coming nearly two months early. Either the flu season is going to peak abnormally early or we're in for an extra 8 weeks of trading the flu back and forth.

Here are three things you can do to help prevent the flu from spreading:

  1. Wash your hands often. Handwashing is the single most helpful step in stopping the spread of several diseases, including the flu.
  2. Cough into your elbow, rather than your hands. We don't shake elbows, so if you don't spit on your hands (which is what happens if you cough or sneeze into them) you're less likely to spread the flu by shaking hands or touching things. Plus, see #1.
  3. Get a flu shot. The vaccine is particularly successful this year, despite the fact that the flu is going to be bad. It's complicated how this works, but this year's vaccine is effectively knocking out the strains of the virus it was intended to prevent. There is plenty of vaccine left, so get the shot.

To make things worse for this year, the flu isn't the only gnarly infection going around. A new strain of norovirus is overtaking Europe, especially the UK. Norovirus is a viral infection in the gut that causes nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. It is the culprit of many cruise ship outbreaks and is often referred to as the "stomach flu" even though it doesn't have anything to do with influenza.

Tip #1 above -- handwashing -- is the single most important thing you can do to prevent the spread of norovirus.

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