What to do to keep from getting the flu again?

Repeat-flu-infections_largeAnyone who has had the flu knows it’s not a pleasant experience. Fever, fatigue, runny nose, cough and muscle aches can make you feel pretty miserable. And once you get over the flu, you certainly won’t want to get sick again.

Well there’s good news and bad news on that front. I’ll start with the bad news. It is possible to get the flu twice during the same flu season. Since there are two types of flu strains – influenza A and influenza B – if you get influenza A, you can also get influenza B.

But there is some good news. If you get influenza A, your body will develop antibodies for influenza A that provide protection against it. Also, while the influenza A antibodies won’t protect you from getting influenza B, having influenza A doesn’t increase your risk of getting influenza B. Plus influenza B typically doesn’t cause as serious of an infection.

So if you’ve had the flu once, what can you do to keep from getting the flu again? The tried and true advice still applies.

1. Get an annual flu shot.

The best way to protect yourself and others is by getting the flu vaccine every year. It decreases the risk of acquiring the infection and it can decrease the severity if you do acquire it. 

Flu viruses aren’t like other viruses where you get them once and you’re protected for life. Flu viruses changes from year to year. A lot of research goes into predicting the changes but it’s a prediction, so it’s not always 100 percent accurate. That’s what accounts for some of the variability and effectiveness of the vaccine.

2. Stay home when you’re sick and encourage others to do the same.

When you’re sick or a family member is sick, it’s really important to stay home until you’re better. For most people, it takes about a week to get over the flu. Staying home that long may be a hard pill to swallow in a culture of presentism, but it’s something you really should do. 

People infected with the flu can shred the virus for five to seven days after developing it. The flu is typically spread through coughing. Cover your cough by coughing into your elbow and not into your hand.

To reduce the risk of infecting others, sleep in another room from other family members, don’t get really close and avoid high-risk populations such as infants, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems.

If you or a coworker returns to work or school early, you risk getting others sick.

3. Wash your hands.

All the time but especially during flu season, good hand hygiene is important. Wash your hands frequently with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Avoid touching your hands to your eyes and mouth. 

4. Drink plenty of fluids and see if you’re a candidate for an antiviral medication.

One of the important things for treatment and overall wellness is hydration. When hydration is recommended, water is always ideal. There can be a lot of fluid loss with the fever caused by the flu. Medications like ibuprofen and acetaminophen can provide symptom relief. 

If you can start the antiviral Tamiflu in the first 24 to 48 hours of symptom onset, it can decrease the symptom duration and viral shedding by about a day. It’s also likely can decrease the risk of severe complications. 

Why is the flu so serious?

The flu is well known to predispose people to secondary bacterial infections such as pneumonia, bronchitis and ear infections, among others. It’s really important for people to know when they develop flu if they are getting better and then get worse again, they need to be evaluated for a secondary bacterial infection.

A significant number of deaths related to flu are attributed to the secondary infections people develop. These infections can happen at the same time patients have the flu, in that period right after they develop it or as they are recovering. 

Shandra Day is an infectious disease physician at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.


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