Believe it or not, it is time to be thinking about preventing another virus and that is influenza.
The good thing is that you can receive the flu vaccine that is very effective. For myself, as far back as I can remember, if I did not get the flu vaccine, I would come down with the flu. And when I did have the vaccine, I have never become ill with the flu.
Because the single most effective way to prevent the flu is by getting the flu vaccine, we will be offering a drive-through flu vaccine clinic. The clinic will be held on Sept. 25 from 9 a.m. until noon. You may not feel comfortable about going in somewhere to get the vaccine. All you do is to drive up and a pharmacist will come to your car to give you the injection. Please remember to bring your Medicare and/or insurance card with you. As long as you have Medicare Part B, there will be no charge. Most private insurance companies also cover the cost of the injection.
Not only will there be flu vaccines offered on Sept. 25, but you will also be able to receive blood pressure and blood sugar checks. Pneumonia vaccines will also be available. There will also be a few surprises, including goody bags. This will coincide with our food box distribution.
The sponsors of this drive-through health clinic are Walgreens, Hospice of Chattanooga, Starr Regional Medical Center, Etowah Gentle Dental, United Way, Area Agency on Aging and Disability, and Etowah Senior Center. Please call the center at 423-781-7632 if your agency would like to participate in this drive-through clinic.
Getting a flu vaccine during 2020-2021 is more important than ever because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Flu vaccination is especially important for people who are at high risk from flu, which are also at high risk for COVID-19, and that includes older adults. With the flu, some people are more likely to get flu complications that can result in hospitalization and sometimes death. Pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus infections, and ear infections are examples of flu-related complications. Flu can also make chronic health problems worse, such as asthma and congestive heart failure.
If you start feeling ill, it will be hard to tell if you have influenza or COVID-19 because the symptoms are so similar. They are both respiratory infections that are caused by different viruses. If you start having symptoms that may include fever, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, and maybe diarrhea and vomiting, you should call your doctor to see about getting tested. One symptom that is different among the two viruses is that with COVID-19, you may lose your ability to smell or taste.
Another difference in the two viruses is that with influenza, you usually become ill after 1-4 days of exposure. With COVID-19 it can take up to 14 days to become ill.
If you receive the vaccination or not, there are ways that will help protect you from getting infected this year. We are going to see what those are and why you should try to prevent coming down
with the flu.
Older adults are more likely to have problems from the flu. It often leads to a hospital stay and sometimes can be fatal. It is estimated by the CDC that between 71% and 85% of seasonal flu-related deaths have occurred in people over the age of 65 and between 54% and 70% of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations have occurred among people in that age group. This is why influenza can often be very serious for older adults.
Each year, the vaccine is updated to keep up with the changing viruses. The vaccine protects against certain strains that research predicts will be common during the upcoming season. This year, the vaccine includes protection from several different strains.
There is a flu vaccine that is designed for those over 65. Be sure to ask your pharmacist or doctor which vaccine they recommend. It is important to remember that you cannot become sick with the flu from receiving a flu shot. The vaccines contain dead viruses. If you come down with the flu after receiving a shot, you were probably exposed to the flu before you had the vaccine or during the two weeks that the flu vaccine takes before being effective. I often hear from seniors that they have never had the flu in their whole life, so they don’t need a flu vaccine. You cannot predict whether you will get the flu just because you have never had it.
A way to help you prevent getting the flu is by practicing good health habits. These same habits will also protect you from COVID-19. The following just might help you stay healthy:
• Wash your hands often. Wash them with soap for at least 15-20 seconds. To help make sure you wash long enough, sing “Happy Birthday” through two times to yourself or say the Lord’s Prayer. Then rinse and dry with a clean towel or air dry. You should wash your hands before, during and after preparing food, before eating, before and after taking care of someone who is sick, after using the toilet, after changing a diaper, after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing, after touching an animal or feeding an animal, after touching pet food, and after touching garbage.
• Use hand sanitizer if soap and water is not available. Use a sanitizer that is at least 60% alcohol. It can reduce the amount of germs significantly on your hands, but it does not eliminate all germs. Read the label so that you will use the right amount.
• Cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze. Use a tissue that can be tossed in the trash and not a handkerchief. If no tissue is available, cough or sneeze into your elbow. If you cough or sneeze into your hand, go wash your hands immediately!
• Avoid close contact. The flu virus is a parasite that travels through the air in small droplets and, when projected by a cough or sneeze, they can fly about three feet before gravity takes over. Someone with the flu can contaminate the air that you breathe. There is no way to know if someone who coughs or sneezes is affected by an illness. So you should stay at least six feet from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
• Clean surfaces. The flu virus can remain viable without a host for about 24 hours. All surfaces that are commonly-touched surfaces need to be cleaned once each day using any standard household cleaner that kills germs. Some commonly-touched surfaces include: Telephones, refrigerator handles, light switches, tables, computers, pens and pencils, doorknobs, just to name a few. Remember, vinegar is not a registered disinfectant and does not kill certain bacteria such as staph.
• Keep you hands away from your face and far from your nose, eyes, and mouth. Simply touching a contaminated surface will not make you sick. The virus doesn’t infect the skin. It must make to a mucosal membrane in your mouth, eye, or nose to cause an infection. So, just keep your hands off your face.
• Do not touch other people’s tissues. Avoid contact with their tissues that could contain the flu virus.
• Keep your lips to yourself. The flu virus is contagious the day before you experience any symptoms. It is carried in saliva, so kissing a flu carrier’s mouth or face is risky during this time.
• During the flu season, keep your pillow to yourself. Pillows and blankets in a shared bed can host the flu virus for 24 hours. Use caution when sharing a bed with someone that is sneezing or coughing by keeping to yourself in the bed. If your partner is diagnosed with the flu, it is best to sleep separately.
• Avoid sharing food from your plate with others.
• Get enough sleep. Having adequate sleep is a good habit for optimal immune system functioning to prevent respiratory illnesses.
• Get exercise. Moving your body will boost your immune system.
Even though you take all the precautions that you can, you may still come down with the flu. But getting the flu vaccination will drastically decrease your chances of coming down with the flu.
A good way to get some exercise, which will help build up your immunity to disease, is to participate in the Walk Across Tennessee program sponsored by the UT Extension Agency. It is a seven-week exercise program for individuals or teams up to four people. This is a friendly competition to see who can log in the most steps by moving: Walking, biking, dancing, swimming, jogging, etc. Everyone who participates will take home a healthy habit … being active, as a way of life.
There will be individual and team rewards of $100, $50, and $25. This begins on Sept. 12 and registration must be completed by this Friday before midnight. Go to www.walkacrosstnmcminn to get started.
Sue Walker is the executive director of the Etowah Area Senior Citizens Center. She may be reached by calling 423-781-7632.