Edie Jeffers, Communications Manager, Tacoma-Pie
Why should the flu matter to you? Influenza is an important public health problem. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each year, the flu causes between 3,000 and 50,000 deaths nationally, depending on the severity of the season, it can cause approximately 200,000 hospitalizations and billions in medical costs and indirect costs such as lost wages.
But closer to home, there are some things you can do to prevent the flu or minimize its impact if you do get sick.
“The most important step a person can take to prevent the flu is to be vaccinated,” said Nigel Turner, Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department’s communicable disease division director. “While we recommend that people get vaccinated as early as possible, you can get a flu shot throughout the season. This simple step not only protects you from the flu, but it helps to protect vulnerable people in our community such as infants, the elderly and immune-compromised individuals,” he said.
It’s also important to get the flu shot annually. Each year, the formulation of the shot uses the three flu viruses that are expected to circulate that season. This season’s vaccine includes protection against two new viruses that are different from last season’s flu vaccine.
The health department publishes an extensive calendar of free and low-cost vaccination clinic opportunities for children as well as links to providers of low-cost flu shot providers for adults on its web site at www.tpchd.org/flu. The department is also partnering with Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital Immunization Services to offer vaccination clinics in 14 elementary schools in Tacoma Public Schools.
Other steps you can take to reduce the spread of the influenza virus:
- Wash your hands—Frequent and proper hand washing is one the most effective ways to reduce the spread of germs. Wash with soap and warm water, scrubbing all parts of your hands and wrists for at least 20 seconds, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water isn’t easily accessible.
- If you’re sick, stay home—Viruses such as the flu spread quickly. Don’t share your germs with coworkers and classmates.
- Cover your cough—Use your elbow or a disposable tissue, not your hand, to cover your cough.
- Keep it clean—Use sanitizing wipes or spray to clean counters, door knobs, telephone handsets, computer key boards and mice, and other surfaces that you frequently touch.
Health officials say that it’s impossible to predict the severity of any flu season, but the season usually begins in October and lasts through the end of April. In the Northwest, the flu typically begins to circulate in December and peak activity usually occurs between late January and March. Last year, flu activity did not peak until April.
While the flu isn’t a reportable disease as is pertussis, the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department monitors influenza activity through laboratory data, hospital emergency room and urgent care information, school absenteeism and other health surveillance methods.
For more information on the flu, and to download an FAQ on the flu shot, visit www.tpchd.org/flu.