How to Protect Your Loved Ones from the Flu

This year’s deadly flu season is still going strong, and southern Louisiana isn't out of the woods yet. Across the state, at least three pediatric flu deaths have been recorded this season.

Part of the danger lies in the fact that symptoms can be mistaken for other, less serious problems.

"What's difficult about the flu is you can never really tell," said Frank Welch, Medical Director for the Louisiana Department of Health Immunization Program. Welch estimated Louisiana would have more than 8,000 hospital admissions and 700 deaths this season involving flu, which typically peaks in early February.

"They are truly historic numbers," Welch said, who has been with the department for 20 years. "It's worse than H1N1 in 2009."

The problem isn't just in our home state. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statistics, the diagnosis of influenza-like illness (ILI) in the U.S. has reached 7.7%. That’s the highest level of ILI recorded since the 2009 H1N1 pandemic.

The situation has gotten so bad that the governor of Alabama issued a state of emergency. In California, another hard-hit state, lines of flu sufferers in the ER at one hospital were so long that the staff had to set up tents in the parking lot to triage the overflow.

And the longer the lines at emergency department doors, the more patients who are likely to be admitted to the hospital. This week, the CDC listed current rates of hospitalization at a high level for the elderly aged 65 and older. And although the next highest rate of hospitalization usually occurs for children age 4 and under, this year adults age 50-64 are currently the second highest risk for hospitalization due to the flu virus.

With numbers like these, protecting yourself and those you care for against the flu is even more critical now than it was when the season started last fall—and the best way to prevent infection is to get vaccinated. Due to strain mutations, however, whether you’re treated or not, it’s still important to take preventative actions daily to reduce the risk.

Here’s a guide to flu prevention that can help.

In public, at work or school: 

  • Avoid close contact with sick people;
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water or use anti-bacterial hand rub;
  • Avoid touching your face, especially your eyes, nose and mouth.

If you experience flu-like symptoms (Coughing with a sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, headaches, body aches, nausea, chills or fever):

  • Avoid contact with others;
  • See a doctor and get tested for flu. (The CDC notes that antiviral drugs for influenza are most effective when started during the first two days of the illness.)

If you or a loved one are diagnosed with the flu:

  • Stay home for at least 24-hours after getting over your fever;
  • Take antiviral drugs to reduce what could become a severe flu to a milder version.

Tips for Adults age 50+ and their Caregivers:

  • Avoid crowds. Because the elderly are at the highest risk and able to stay at home if retired, recommends avoiding busy public places.
  • Exercise regularly. Even with reduced endurance in the elderly, Daily Caring urges that regular exercise is worth the effort as it boosts the immune system.
  • Boost emotional health. Individuals who live alone, are ill or homebound often struggle with feelings of isolation, depression and anxiety, which lower the immune system. Engaging in hobbies, social activities or regular exercise can help increase physical health.

Tips for Parents

  • Ensure your family is drinking water and plenty of it. Research by Dr. David Lewis, a professor of pediatric infectious diseases at Stanford, finds that drinking eight glasses of water a day moistens the nasal passageway and prevents the flu virus from traveling into the body. Individuals drinking only 2-3 cups of water a day are almost four times more likely to get the flu than those who were staying hydrated.
  • Seek medical care with precautions. If you decide to seek emergency care for your child, the Children’s Hospital of Orange County compiled this helpful resource for parents after seeing unusually high numbers of flu patients this January.
  • Double-check with daycare. For young children age 4 and under enrolled in daycare, double check the sanitizing procedures of frequently used areas, such as diaper changing tables, door and cabinet handles and toys shared between children.
  • Keep schools safe. Check with your child’s teacher to ensure that frequently used surfaces are being sanitized daily. If not, consider donating disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizer for classroom use. (For more information on daily preventative care tips for schools, check out the free educational flyers offers for school nurses, parents, teachers and students.)

While it’s not too late to get vaccinated, daily preventative care is the best way to stop the spread of the flu. Practicing and teaching good personal hygiene, cleaning frequently used surfaces and avoiding contact with sick individuals are the best ways to protect yourself and your loved ones.

If you or a loved one becomes a victim of the flu, our emergency department is open 24-hours a day, seven days a week. Staffed by Board-Certified Emergency Physicians and Certified Emergency Nurses, we are always on-call and happy to help.