That Time of Year: Flu Prevention

To keep yourself and your family safe, it's important to understand the basics of flu prevention.

Kids in school are surrounded by their friends and teachers — and germs.

Public health scientists who develop the flu vaccine for the upcoming flu season are fighting against those germs. To keep yourself and your family safe, it's important to understand the basics of flu prevention.

The 2018-2019 Flu Season

Last year's flu season was the longest in a decade, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Beginning in late September 2018 and stretching to the middle of May 2019, it brought 21 weeks of body aches, coughing and fevers.

Last year, the CDC noted that there were two waves of "influenza A," which was an unusual occurrence. From October 2018 to the middle of February 2019, there was a strain of influenza called A(H1N1)pdm09 and from February to May of 2019, a strain of (H3N2) ran rampant, so if you got very sick twice last flu season, that could explain why.

The CDC considered last season to be of moderate severity based on the percentage of visits to outpatient clinics for flu, hospitalizations and percentage of deaths from the flu.

For the 2018-2019 flu season, the CDC estimated that there were between:

  • 17.3 million to 20.1 million flu visits to doctors
  • 531,000 - 647,000 hospitalizations for flu
  • 36,400- 61,200 deaths from flu in the U.S.

What we can Learn for the Upcoming Flu Season

The CDC continues to encourage everyone who is eligible to get the flu vaccine. With the unusual length and varying viral makeup of last year's flu, people could potentially benefit from a flu vaccine this year even if they don't get it before the season begins.

The flu vaccine is estimated by the CDC to be approximately 40% to 60% effective in preventing the flu. This adds up to thousands of hospitalizations avoided and thousands of deaths prevented if a large segment of the population receives the vaccine.

In addition, a study published in Vaccine found that the people who receive the vaccine and still get the flu have a less severe form of the disease than those who are unvaccinated. If a person is hospitalized, they are 59% less likely to be admitted to the ICU and their hospital stays are shorter.

Flu Prevention Tips

When going back to school, you and your family can use some tips from the CDC to avoid getting the flu:

  • Get everyone in the family fully vaccinated, including two doses for some younger children (between 6 months and 8 years old) and stronger vaccines for older adults.
  • Wash your hands regularly using soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes with either a tissue or by using your sleeve or elbow and then washing your hands.
  • Stay home if you are sick to prevent the spread of germs.
  • Disinfect regularly-touched items such as doorknobs, keyboards and desktops.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Maintain other important factors for good health including quality nutrition, adequate rest and regular physical exercise.

Also, you can make sure that your student's classroom has a good supply of hand sanitizer and tissues available as well as items such as cleaning wipes that are effective against the flu virus. Discuss with teachers and staff their protocol for disinfecting common surfaces and for notifying caregivers of flu-like illness for students in their class.

If you or a loved one does get sick and think it might be the flu, get to a clinic right away. There are several prescription medical devices to assist in diagnosing the flu. Abbott has a rapid influenza test that can help your provider get you antiviral medications as soon as possible. This is crucial because they are most effective within the first 48 hours of your first feeling ill.

This school year, don't let the flu catch you and your family by surprise. Take the time to put preventative steps in place by vaccinating the whole family and keeping these tips in mind.