Staying Virus Free This Winter

You may have heard about the especially active flu season that is in high swing across the U.S. or perhaps you have been reading the headlines about the Sydney vomiting bug infecting millions worldwide.  Should you be worried and what can you do to protect yourself?  Keep reading to find out.

This year’s flu season started earlier than previous years, and there is already high activity nation-wide according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  The flu shot is the best way to protect yourself from getting sick, and the current CDC recommendation is for everyone 6 months and older to be vaccinated.  It is especially important for certain segments of the population to receive the flu shot, including young children, those age 65 years and older, and those with chronic health conditions such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease.  These individuals are at higher risk for experiencing flu-related complications, including pneumonia, bronchitis, and sinus and ear infections.  In rare cases, these complications may lead to hospitalization and even death.  Influenza vaccines are not 100% effective at preventing the flu, so it is important to practice good hygiene as well.  Frequent hand washing, avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth, and sanitizing work and home surfaces that are used often can help prevent the spread of disease.

Another serious virus that is making the rounds this winter is the Sydney vomiting bug, which is a new strain of norovirus discovered in Australia last year.  Noroviruses cause acute gastroenteritis, and symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, cramping, and occasionally fever or muscle aches.  Like the flu, norovirus can be particularly dangerous for the elderly population.  According to the CDC, over two-thirds of U.S. norovirus outbreaks occur in long-term care facilities.  Cruise ships are also susceptible to outbreaks of this virus so if you are planning a trip be sure to take extra precautions to protect yourself.  There is no vaccine against norovirus and while most people recover within a couple of days, some people experience complications from dehydration.  Like influenza, young children and the elderly are at greatest risk for complications.  If you or someone in your family or care does get sick, the CDC recommends using cleaners containing bleach to disinfect contaminated surfaces and immediately washing any clothing or linens that have been in contact with stool or vomit.

For more information on these viruses and how to protect yourself, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website.