Midway through the 2012-2013 flu season, it's already been one of the worst in the last decade, with more cases and more severe cases than usual, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
While the latest tracking data suggests that cases may have peaked, there is still risk of catching the strains of influenza that are circulating nationally. Anyone who does get the flu is at risk of becoming severely ill, especially certain individuals who are most at-risk: the very young, the elderly, and immunocompromised people.
But according to an influenza virus expert at UC San Francisco, there are still ways people can protect themselves.
“Probably the first thing you should do is to get the vaccine,” said Charles Chiu, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of laboratory medicine at UCSF and director of the UCSF-Abbott Viral Diagnostics and Discovery Center. “By administering the vaccine, the body will mount an antibody response to the virus that will prevent you from getting influenza.”
Other important ways to avoid catching or spreading the flu include careful and frequent hand-washing – lathering for 15 seconds under hot running water. Also, Chiu said, “It’s really important that you try to not to go to school or work because there’s a good possibility that you’re contagious and that you may spread the disease to others.”
Chiu also addressed a common myth: You cannot get the flu from influenza vaccine because the flu shot contains killed virus, and the intranasal flu mist contains non-infectious virus that is cold-adapted to the nose and cannot replicate in the warmer temperatures of the rest of the body.