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Avoiding The Flu

Every year the flu kills thousands of Americans of all ages, but seniors tend to take the worst of it.  And there's just no way of knowing how each person will react to the flu.  Avoiding the flu to begin takes diligence but is the surest way to make sure there are no long term or deadly effects.  

If someone is in relatively good health and only suffers the normal flu symptoms of headache, fever, chills, nausea, etc., then recovery from the flu is most likely in 7-10 days.  Early medical treatment and getting on Tamiflu can shorten the illness.  The flu can however, morph into a variety of other illnesses such as pneumonia or other respiratory illnesses, or dehydration, and it can lower the immune system to make other illnesses much more likely and severe.

Getting the flu vaccine is easily the best thing that most people can do to avoid the flu.  This is not however, a license to act recklessly.  Even with the flu vaccine, you are not guaranteed to not get the flu.  You must still practice prevention.  

The other issue with the flu vaccine is that you are not immediately protected.  It could be as much as 10 days before you have built adequate flu resistance in your body.  If you have already picked up the virus by then, you could still get very sick.

Bottom line, get the flu vaccine with your doctor's advice, but act like you haven't gotten it.

Where the flu virus starts

Avoiding the flu means staying away from live virus and avoiding the ways that it is transmitted.  While the flu virus can be transmitted by someone in close proximity such as through coughing and sneezing, most people get it through contact surfaces that we don't think about.  

You should understand that the flu virus lives longer outside the body than the cold virus and may be alive as much as 72 hours later.  This happens especially with hard and non-porous surfaces.  

When someone sneezes or wipes their mouth on their hand and then touches something, that "something" can hold that virus for a couple of days.  If you touch it, that virus can then be transferred to your hand.  From here, all it takes is scratching a nose or the edge of your eye, putting a piece of candy in your mouth, or anything else that allows that virus an opening into either an eye, the nose, or the mouth.  It doesn't take much.

H1N1 Swine Flu

While the H1N1 or Swine Flu virus has been around for awhile, we have heard a lot more about it recently and it has become much more prolific this time around.  

Unfortunately, many seniors also have a lot of misinformation about it and its effects.  The curious thing about the H1N1 virus is that populations such as seniors who tend to be effected by the flu virus find themselves less so this time around.  

The bad news is that many people are translating that to mean that seniors can't get the H1N1 flu virus.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  

Seniors are still likely to get the flu if exposed, and it can still be deadly.  Do not take this flu lightly.  

Avoiding the flu virus

Avoiding the flu virus means staying away from people who have the flu and being thoughtful about sanitation.  

1)  The best way to start is staying out of crowded places.  In crowds, a simply sneeze from several people away can carry enough virus to make many people sick.  Crowds aside though, it only takes one person who might not even be symptomatic to pass along the bug.

2)  This of course means that you need to take charge of sanitation around you.  Don't stand around and talk to people if they are exhibiting symptoms at all.  Excuse yourself from shaking hands this time of year.  Explain to others that you are being careful and most people will understand.  This might be your best friend, but do you know everything she has touched since she last washed her hands?

3)  Wash your hands frequently and carry and use a bottle of alcohol hand sanitizer around with you wherever you go.  Offer a bit to those around you as a gesture of friendship and don't feel shy about using it yourself.  Unlike using antibacterial soap, using soap and water and alcohol sanitizer doesn't make you more vulnerable to germs.  

4)  Keep your hands to yourself.  If you can't avoid touching things like doorknobs, railings, escalator rails, and seats in airplanes, keep your hands away from your face until you can wash thoroughly or use your sanitizer.  Keep the flu virus away from eyes, nose, and mouth where it can make an easy entry.

Shop at stores where they offer sanitizer wipes and use them on the cart handle.  Grab an extra one and take it with you as you go through the store.  As you open freezer and cooler doors, use the sanitizer wipe like you would a hot-mitt, and then dispose of it as you leave the store.

5)  Use a saline nasal rinse at least once daily.  Kits such as the NeilMed kit are available at most WalMarts for about $11.00 and refills are cheap.  Rinsing your nasal passages is a bit tough at first, but remember that about 70% of the air that goes into your body goes through your nose.  As dust collects, it makes a great place for virus and bacteria to collect.  Rinsing it out daily is a good step to overall body health as well as preventing the flu.

6)  Get exercise, a good night's sleep, eat a nutritious diet, avoid junk food, and take a multivitamin daily.  These are all important to keeping your body's immune system at its peak.

7)  Drink plenty of water.  If your blood had blood, it would be water.  Without water, your body cannot use food properly, it can't clean itself, it can't heal itself, and it can't keep your immune system going.

8)  When anyone comes over for a visit, ask them to wash their hands when they come into the house.  We all want the kids and grandkids to come over and we love our friends.  But they will bring everything with them that they've picked up since they washed last.  This won't prevent the flu, but it can cut the odds dramatically.

9)  Even with all these precautions, people can still bring stuff into your house.  Open windows on nice days and let the air exchange.  Run air cleaners when windows are down to keep the dust in check, and generally keep things clean.  

A bleachy cloth run over handles, light switches, and other surfaces that people touch after everyone leaves is also a good idea.  Don't forget the bathroom.  People spit, wash their face, brush their teeth, and generally have lots of body contact with surfaces here.  

10) Wash washcloths and towels often, including those in the kitchen.  They may be theoretically only used to wipe off water, but it often doesn't work out that way.

If you start getting the flu

Unfortunately, we can't always do everything we should to stay healthy.  We can make mistakes or assumptions about other people and their habits, or just not think.

If you start getting sick, get to your doctor immediately.  Tamiflu is likely to be your best shot at cutting the flu virus off short, but your doctor will have to make the flu diagnosis and prescribe the medication.  

Even if you get the flu, still keep your own hands watched.  You are now contagious and can infect others.  

Be sure to keep drinking water and get as much sleep as possible.  These are two of the biggest ways you can protect your health and cut the effects of the flu virus.  

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