Many are embarking on this holiday weekend by indulging in Thanksgiving feasts or hunting down Black Friday deals. Or both. When you head for home, just make sure the only things you leave with are leftovers and bargains.
All that human contact makes the perfect breeding ground for the gift no one wants: the flu.
“It is very easy to catch any sort of illness this time of year with all the hugs, handshakes and shared surfaces at parties or shopping malls,” said OMRF immunologist Eliza Chakravarty, M.D. “The flu can spread like wildfire, and these settings can act just like kindling.”
While there is always a potential danger of contracting the virus, several measures can help protect you and your loved ones.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend being vigilant with your handwashing and, when no soap is available, using hand sanitizers. Avoid touching your eyes and mouth, get plenty of sleep and eat healthy to give your immune system a leg up.
But your No. 1 line of defense is to get your annual flu shot.
“Even though the flu shot has been out a few months, it’s never too late to get it,” Chakravarty said. “The flu can be life-threatening, and the vaccine is a proven way to protect yourself and the people you care about. It’s an absolute no-brainer.”
The flu is far more dangerous than many give it credit for, and it kills roughly 36,000 Americans annually. While it is still too soon to predict the severity of this flu season, Oklahoma has already confirmed cases of the flu in the state.
According to the CDC, the nasal spray form of the vaccine is not recommended for this flu season. Flu shots are your best option. But even though the flu is miserable and potentially lethal, as many as 60 percent of Americans forgo the annual shot.
“One misconception we always hear is, ‘Oh, but I’ll just get the flu from the flu shot.’ Simply, no, you will not get the flu from the shot. No way,” said Chakravarty. The vaccine is made from proteins in a lab, she says, not from the virus itself.
The vaccine kicks your immune system into gear, because it views these proteins as foreign and builds up a defense to them. This process preps the body for a rapid immune response to the actual virus, often preventing it altogether.
“The side effects people experience after a flu shot, like soreness, swelling at the injection site and low fever do not mean you have the flu. It’s simply your body doing its job and building up its defenses,” Chakravarty said. “If you get the flu, you’ll know it, because the symptoms will knock you down.”
If you begin to feel ill, look out for severe aches and pains in your muscles and joints, notable fatigue and weakness, headaches and high fever. The sooner you see a doctor and begin treatment, the better.
“Getting the flu is an awful experience. Getting it during the holiday season is even worse,” said Chakravarty. “So if you need to be out and about running errands and meeting up with friends and family, it’s wise to protect yourself–and them–as best you can.”