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Doctors offer advice for flu season

By: Brendan Losinski | C&G Newspapers | Published December 27, 2019

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METRO DETROIT — The holidays may be the most wonderful time of the year, but it also is flu season. Some basic tips can help people avoid the flu so that they can keep their new year a happy one.

Medical professionals are trying to get the word out to the public about the do’s and don’ts of influenza prevention.

Experts, such as Dr. Kevin Lokar, the medical director for the Macomb County Health Department, say the best advice that someone can follow to avoid the flu is to get a yearly flu vaccine. Experts advise that everyone 6 months of age and older get one.

“A vaccine will protect you, if you get one,” Lokar said. “It will prevent you from getting sick, which is the best way to fight the flu overall. The other measures, such as practicing good hygiene and washing your hands, work, but the best way is if you are immune in the first place. All vaccines have this concept called herd immunity, where if (there are) a lot of people who are vaccinated, if you encounter a person who isn’t, it is less likely they are infected and less likely for them to pass it along and so forth.”

He added that flu vaccines are commonly available, affordable and covered by most health care providers.

“It’s a $20 fee for a flu shot, and even then we bill insurance companies or other health care providers, if possible,” Lokar said. “Now is a good time to get vaccinated. It usually takes a few weeks for the vaccine to become effective, so the earlier the better.”

Sanitary precautions are one of the best ways to stop the spread of flu germs. This means washing hands after using the restroom or changing a diaper, before preparing food, and after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose.

“Generally speaking, common hygiene practices are effective,” said Dr. Nasir Husain, Henry Ford Macomb Hospital’s infection prevention program director. “Cover up your face if you sneeze, and so forth. The flu is very contagious, so washing hands can go a long way.”

Regular cleaning of surfaces, such as kitchen and bathroom counters, can be effective at eliminating germs that might be hiding on them. Doctors also say not to touch your own face, particularly around the eyes, nose and mouth. Lokar added that because influenza is an airborne illness, such measures are not perfect.

“Basic hygiene always helps. Just practice respiratory etiquette — cover your mouth if you sneeze, wash your hands and so forth,” Lokar said. “Just dispose of tissues in a wastebasket. Practice common sense. Cleaning surfaces can help, but influenza is airborne, so there’s only so much you can do if you are in the same household as someone who is sick. It can be passed by touch, but also just through the air.”

One of the reasons the flu can spread easily in the winter is that more people tend to congregate indoors in closed spaces. Macomb County Health Department officials also say to avoid contact with people who are sick whenever possible and to stay home from work, school or other public places if you become sick to prevent spreading it to others. Cough or sneeze into a tissue or a sleeve to keep from spreading flu germs.

“Avoid people or stay home if you’re sick,” Lokar advised. “This can be hard — people need to go to work and run errands — but stopping the spread of the flu can be very important. Even if it’s something not very harmful to you, you don’t want to pass it to someone like a child or someone who is more susceptible to such conditions.”

“If you already have an illness, one thing we suggest is to pay a visit to a physician, especially if you’re not sure what you are sick with,” Husain added. “Respiratory illnesses mean avoiding the public whenever possible. Primary physicians and clinics are better. If someone is sick, you can pass it to a lot of others or catch something else yourself.”

The Macomb County Health Department has predicted an average flu season this year, but doctors say it is too early in the season to predict if that will be accurate.

“It’s too early to tell how this year will look, as far as flu numbers,” Lokar said. “There’s some activity out there, but the season extends into March, so it’s too early to see how 2019-2020 will compare to previous years.”

Flu vaccines are also available at most doctor’s offices and pharmacies. To find nearby locations, people can visit www.vaccinefinder.org.

“One of the most important things I see is that the influenza vaccine isn’t being utilized as much as it should be,” Husain said. “They are available in even common pharmacies, so it’s very easy and affordable to obtain one. Medical reasons to not get a vaccine are very rare, so almost everyone should be getting one.”