Influenza, a viral infection of the lungs and airways, happens every year and is common worldwide. Each year’s flu is a little different because the virus often changes slightly. Most people who have had a previous strain will have some protection against the new version. However, health agencies are concerned that some new strain will change to the point where few people are resistant, resulting in a global epidemic (pandemic) where many people will become seriously ill.
“Everyone should plan ahead in case they become ill with influenza,” advises Alberta Health and Wellness (Influenza Self-Care, publication CD0092, p. 15).
Preventing Flu by Being Prepared – Who Should be Most Concerned?
While everyone should take active measures to protect their health, some people might be more at risk of the consequences of catching the flu. Alberta Health and Wellness advises that these groups in particular should prepare:
- those who live alone, regardless of age
- single parents, regardless of the age of their children
- caregivers, volunteers working with the ill, and health-care workers
- those with children less than 2 years old
- people with weakened immune systems, whether by disease or medication/treatment
- people with certain chronic illnesses such as heart or lung disease
In addition, senior couples where only one partner is mobile should make extra preparations.
Be Prepared to Prevent Flu and its Consequences
There are a number of steps people in those groups can take in order to protect themselves and others against influenza, or if they do get the flu, to reduce the severity and duration of its effect. Figures and advice cited are from Alberta Health & Wellness.
- Choose to Immunize – Each year a new vaccine is created containing the three virus strains most likely to circulate that year. It takes about two weeks for the vaccine to take effect, so it is given early, before the flu season starts. The vaccine is effective in 70% to 90% of people
- Live Healthy – Follow a healthy lifestyle year round. Exercise regularly, eat a balanced diet, drink plenty of water. Older adults may take daily multivitamins.
- When flu season comes, be sure stock up on fluids (bottled water, juice) and other supplies such as tissues. The goal is to have enough on hand to last one or two weeks (the normal duration of a flu bug).
- Have a medical thermometer handy, and know how to use it. The level of fever is an important indicator for knowing when to seek emergency medical aid (fever for three to four days without improvement is a danger sign)
- Stock up on over-the-counter (OTC) fever medications [Advil, Tylenol, Aleve, Aspirin and others are medicines and may have side effects. Talk to a pharmacist or physician about these products. – author.]
- Know what options are available at work – persons with flu should not go to work, but might be well enough to do some work at home
- Have a backup caregiver for family
It may not be possible to avoid the flu entirely. However, some advance preparation can reduce both the chances of getting influenza and the severity and duration of the symptoms. Having proper supplies and equipment in the home will help.