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FAQ on the Flu: How to Protect Your Family This Flu Season

Flu season is upon us. Prevent influenza from spreading through your home with these tips.


Concerned mom calling about child with fluThe 2018-2019 flu season was one of the worst Iowa has seen in years. The flu shot only provided about 36 percent protection. Flu-related deaths were up. And it was the longest flu season in a decade.

In preparation for the new flu season, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have updated the strains in the influenza vaccine. They do their best to protect against the most prevalent flu strains, but every season is unpredictable.

Flu season is here, and you need to be ready. To help you prepare, Melissa Thompson, MD, Family Medicine physician at The Iowa Clinic’s West Des Moines campus, answers the most common questions about influenza. So you can avoid catching the flu and keep it from spreading throughout your household.

Do I need to get a flu shot?

Definitely. You and your entire family should.

“That’s a question we hear a lot. Patients say they got the flu shot but still got the flu. Unfortunately, it’s not a 100 percent guarantee,” says Dr. Thompson.

While there are various influenza viruses that spread every year, the flu shot contains the experts’ educated guess at what will be most problematic. Even if you end up catching one of those strains or a different version of the virus, the flu shot is still your best protection.

“The flu shot will significantly decrease your risk of getting the flu. It will shorten the duration of your illness if you do get the flu. And it should make the symptoms less severe,” says Dr. Thompson.

Woman receiving her flu shot from a medical provider

Flu Shots Are Your Best Protection

Protect yourself, your family and everyone around you from influenza.

Get Your Annual Flu Vaccine

When should I schedule flu shots?

“Ideally, everyone should be immunized by early November, but as long as the flu virus is circulating, it's not too late to get a flu shot,” says Dr. Thompson.

In Iowa, flu season begins in October and revs up just in time for the holidays. With everyone getting together, it spreads quickly. The largest number of flu cases typically occur during January and February. Flu season typically ends in March. Last year it lasted into April. In some years, it can extend to May.

It can take 10 to 14 days for your body to build immunity after being vaccinated. Since no one ever knows exactly when flu season will peak, your better off getting a flu shot early in the season to protect yourself for the duration.

What else can you do to prevent the flu?

Download the infographic for how to prevent the flu.

“The best thing you can do to protect your family against the flu is to prevent it,” Dr. Thompson says. “Everyone should get a flu shot — that’s your best bet. But there are other things you can do to avoid the flu.”

1. Cover your mouth.

The flu is a respiratory illness that spreads easily through the air. When you cough or sneeze, the germs can travel up to six feet to contaminate another person or a surface in your home.

Cover your mouth with a tissue or your arm when you cough or sneeze to keep the virus contained. Even infants can quickly learn to cover their coughs.

2. Wash your hands.

Good hand hygiene is one of the most effective ways of preventing the spread of influenza. Wash your hands regularly with soap and water so that any germs you picked up go down the drain. Be more diligent than you would be outside of flu season by washing your hands after you touch any high-contact object at home or work. And teach your kids to do the same.

3. Disinfect everything.

Those high-contact surfaces harbor a lot of germs. The flu virus can survive for up to three hours on a surface. If you find that someone in your family’s been exposed, go through the house and wipe the light switches, countertops, doorknobs, faucets, keyboards, handles, and anything else they may have touched.

4. Stick with your healthy habits.

A healthy lifestyle is beneficial year-round. In flu season, it provides added protection against illness by giving your immune system a boost when it needs it most. Practice good nutrition, exercise and sleep habits to help keep up your immunity.

5. Steer clear of sick people.

Flu symptoms can last for a week or longer after their onset. When someone you know has contracted the flu, keep your distance until all their symptoms fade.

That only protects you against your circle, not the rest of the community. Bring some disinfectant wipes with you in public during flu season and wipe down shopping carts, door handles, or just your hands to protect from the flu.

Follow the same advice for yourself, advises Dr. Thompson.

“If you’re ill, running a fever or not feeling well, don’t go to work. Because if you do, you’re going to give it to everybody else.”

Is there any way to treat influenza?

Act fast! You may be able to avoid a severe case of the flu. If you’re able to catch your illness early, flu medicine can reduce the duration and the severity of the symptoms.

“There are some medications we can use to help treat the flu. Unfortunately, those have to be started within the first 48 hours of symptom onset,” says Dr. Thompson. “Most of the time, by the time the patient comes into the clinic, we’re way past that 48 hours.”

Two days isn’t a lot of time. And signs of the flu don’t hit you right away. It can take one to four days for symptoms to show up after you’ve been infected.

But at the first sign of the flu, call your family physician. Your provider will lessen the severity of the illness and help you stop the spread of the flu throughout the rest of your family.

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