The days are gradually getting shorter, and eveningwear features jackets instead of short sleeves and tank tops. The beautiful days of fall and its bounty of harvest are quickly approaching. As we move into the more enjoyable temperatures and routines of autumn, we should be preparing for flu (influenza) season, as well.

Because it is difficult to predict the timing, severity and length of the flu season, the CDC (Centers For Disease Control) advises that flu season can begin as early as October and may continue through May. Flu severity in the U.S. usually peaks in January and February. However, due to the unpredictable nature of the influenza virus, flu season can vary from year to year.

Young children, seniors over 65, and individuals with asthma, diabetes and heart disease represent the populations at highest risk for developing serious complications from contracting the flu. Some serious complications of the flu are dehydration, sinus and ear infections, bacterial pneumonia, and meningitis (a dangerous infection of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord). Complications can also worsen chronic health conditions, leading to hospitalization and even death. Because the elderly are at risk, it is important not only for seniors, but for family and friends to know how to prevent the flu and how to treat it if a loved one becomes ill.

The best way to prevent the flu is to get an annual flu vaccine. All healthy individuals, especially the elderly, should receive a vaccine by the end of October. Discuss allergies or previous reactions with your Physician before receiving the vaccine or requesting one for your loved one. Flu vaccines can be obtained from your Physician’s office, a local pharmacy, Urgent Care Clinics and Health Fairs in shopping malls, Senior Centers and other public places. If your loved one is unable to leave his or her place of residence, ask the local pharmacist or physician’s office if one of their employees is able to make a visit to provide the vaccine.

Good health habits also prevent contraction and spread of the flu. Remember to wash your hands frequently with soap and water or use an alcohol based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available. Remind family and friends who may visit you or your loved one to stay at home when feeling ill, when a fever is present, or when they have a cough or sneeze. Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth without first washing your hands with soap and water. During the winter season, try to help your loved one remain physically active, get plenty of sleep, manage stress, drink plenty of fluids and eat a well balanced diet. If you become ill, cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue or the inside of your arm and avoid contact with your loved one.

Symptoms and Treatment
Despite your best efforts, you or your loved one may become ill. Most individuals who have the flu report feeling more intense symptoms than those of the common cold. These symptoms include high fever above 101 degrees Fahrenheit, sore throat, headache and body aches, runny nose and extreme fatigue. Sometimes nausea and vomiting accompany the flu, especially in the very young or elderly. If your loved one experiences symptoms that seem worse than those of a cold, take him or her to the Physician’s office within the first few days of illness. The physician will perform a test to be sure it is the flu, after which an antiviral will be prescribed to help shorten the length and severity of the flu. Be sure to follow the Physician’s instructions and offer plenty of rest time and fluids to your loved one. Watch for signs of complications such as extremely high fever (103 or higher), listlessness, loss of consciousness, severe weakness, rapid decrease in blood pressure, pain in the back or neck, loss of thirst and lack of urination. These symptoms herald complications that require immediate attention in an Urgent Care Clinic or Emergency Room.

Knowledge about prevention, symptoms and treatment can help you and your loved ones be prepared to fight the flu and stay healthy this winter. Be prepared to spread the news, not the flu!

vickiheadshot-[500x500]]Vicki Eckersel is a Bachelor’s prepared RN who believes that the power of patient-centered education has the ability to promote healing and well being. Her love of nursing runs deep over the past 20 years, through nearly every area of health care, including management. While her favorite hobby is being a mother, she often says that being an RN is a close second. Fortunately, the two blend well in a crazy home filled with nine wonderful people and one lovable dog. She hopes one day to combine her love of nursing with travel to serve those in need in foreign lands.