Making Good Choices This Flu Season

Flu season is here. In fact, it's not just here—it's here with a terrible ferocity. Search for "flu infection rates" on the web and you will see some eye-popping charts. The 2022-2023 flu season started very early and respiratory illness hospital rates are already at levels typical of January and February. This season is a doozy.

Let's talk about choices.

How can you prepare for the flu?

Have you had a flu shot? If not, what's holding you back?

I know this is some people's least favorite part of flu prevention. We don't have time for an appointment; we don't like getting a sore arm; we sometimes get the shot and get sick anyway. But flu shots are statistically our most effective measure, so let's embrace it together.

It's true that people sometimes get the flu despite getting the shot. There are many influenza strains and they are constantly mutating, so some years the shot just isn't that effective. It is too early in this season to tell, but preliminary data hints that we've lucked out and this year's flu vaccine is well-suited for this year's flu. This possible great news alongside our shocking infection rates means that if you're on the fence, this is a year to choose to get the shot.

Also consider: what are your daily habits to stay healthy? Do you eat a balanced diet? Do you find ways to keep active, even on these cold, dark days? Could you use more sleep at night? You want your body to be prepared to eliminate influenza – or any virus – it encounters as quickly as possible. Consider how you might make your body stronger.

How can you stop spreading the flu?

People get the flu from other people. What choices can you make to stop or slow that spread? Will you stay home if you feel sick?

Making wise work choices about reducing exposure is a little easier in this age when some people can work remotely. But then there's that denial factor: you don't want to be sick, and working from home might be admitting your stuffiness is more than allergies.

Making wise social choices is very hard during the holidays. You look forward to seeing friends, family, and neighbors at the parties, candlelit services, and meals that shape this season. The temptation is strong to tough it out with decongestant and tissues.

But what is your body telling you? Err on the side of caution if you start to feel under the weather. Change plans and connect with the people you love in a few weeks, when everyone is feeling well. See it as an opportunity to get an extra helping of the holidays in January or February!

Also, what choices might make it easier for others to stay home when they need to? Drop off groceries or a plate of leftovers from the party they missed. Pick up the slack at work if someone is out so they don't feel a need to rush back before they are well again.

How can you keep clean?

Most of us touch our faces, mouths, and eyes umpteen times a day. For many germs, including influenza, hitching a ride on someone's hands is a direct route to infecting a new host. We can't choose to stop touching our faces entirely—for most of us it's a completely subconscious behavior. But what choices can keep those hands clean throughout your day? Will you do the old touch-the-soap-and-rinse, or a long, deep scrub? Will you grab some hand sanitizer as you walk by a dispenser at the store?

Next, are there shared surfaces you can help keep clean? This is so easy with disinfectant wipes, but perhaps sometimes socially awkward in shared spaces outside of your home. Please boldly take responsibility for that space for the good of everyone.

Block the Flu

Influenza virus spreads through the air, floating on the droplets we expel from our nose and mouth. Remember to keep those droplets to yourself by covering your face when you sneeze and cough. Also, as much as we're tired of them, masks are a great extra safety measure.

Please make good choices this flu season. I care deeply for my patients, my neighbors, and my community. I'm going to do my best to make good choices. You do the same and we'll see each other at your next wellness visit in 2023 – and this year's flu season will be behind us.

This message has been shared and endorsed by Dr. Gretchen Hodgdon, Chief of Primary Care Services at Bassett Healthcare Network.