Take precautions to avoid getting, spreading influenza

Share |
Photo of 'stop the flu' poster.

It's not too late to get vaccinated against the flu.

KALAMAZOO—Western Michigan University students and employees are encouraged to take precautions to avoid getting or spreading influenza.

"We saw an uptick in students with flu-like symptoms early in December, and we may see another wave in the next couple of weeks now that students are back from the holiday recess," says Dr. Lisa Marshall, medical director for the Sindecuse Health Center. "Some schools in our area are closing because of so many flu cases. We know flu viruses are out there, and we want to be proactive."

Marshall says there are many steps members of the campus community can take to help keep the rate of seasonal flu cases on campus relatively low compared to the rate many other large organizations are experiencing.

At the top of the list are taking everyday preventive actions to stop the spread of germs and, for those who have not already done so, influenza vaccination. Other key steps will be publicized on fliers to be posted around campus starting Jan. 13.

Also this week, Sindecuse is expected to receive additional influenza vaccine. Members of the campus community should call the center regarding availability before coming in to be vaccinated.

"Getting a flu shot will protect against this season's three main influenza strains, and vaccination is about 60 percent effective in protecting people from these strains," Marshall says. "If Sindecuse is low on vaccine, campus community members can always get flu shots at their family physician's office or a local pharmacy."

Marshall adds that people experiencing flu-like illness should not overreact.

"You don't need go to your doctor's office or the emergency room, where you might be exposed to the flu if you don't already have it. Most people don't need medical care or antiviral drugs. You can do self-care if your symptoms are mild and you're not at risk for flu-related complications," she says.

"But individuals considered at risk for flu-related complications should see a medical provider at the onset of symptoms. Treatment with antiviral drugs may be necessary and should be started within 48 hours of becoming ill."

How to prevent the flu and reduce its spread

  • If you have not already done so, get vaccinated.
  • Avoid close contact with others, especially those who are sick.
  • Practice good health habits, such as drinking plenty of fluids, eating nutritious food, getting plenty of sleep, being physically active and managing stress.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for about 20 seconds, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs.
  • When you are sick, stay home and keep your distance from others.
  • When coughing or sneezing, cover your mouth and nose with your sleeve, or use a tissue and dispose of it immediately.

About seasonal influenza

  • The flu season can begin as early as October, normally peaks in January or February, and can last as late as May.
  • Most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to five to seven days after becoming sick.
  • Those infected with the flu virus often experience some or all of the following symptoms: fever, chills, coughing, runny or stuffy nose, headache, sore throat, muscle aches and fatigue.
  • Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, although this is more common in children than adults, and not everyone with flu will have a fever.
  • Important self-care recovery steps include drinking plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration, avoiding smoking and alcohol, and using acetaminophen or ibuprofen to reduce fever or muscle aches.
  • Those at greater risk of serious flu-related complications include young children, elderly people, pregnant women and people with certain long-term medical conditions, such as asthma, diabetes and heart disease.

For more information

Visit the Sindecuse Health Center website at wmich.edu/healthcenter for more WMU-related seasonal flu information.

Visit the CDC website at cdc.gov/flu for comprehensive information about influenza, how to reduce the chances of catching and spreading it, and what to do if you become ill.