By Lauren A. Shirey, Program Evaluator, U.S. Army Public Health CommandNovember 3, 2014
The leaves are starting to change color and the air is a little cooler. The change in season also brings with it a greater risk of seasonal influenza, more commonly known as the flu. Although the flu can occur at any time of year, there is usually a large increase in the number of people affected by it during October-May. The flu can cause serious problems and has the potential to threaten Army mission and readiness. More than 30,000 people in the United States die from and over 200,000 people are hospitalized because of seasonal flu each year.
Signs and symptoms of the flu include:
• sore throat
• runny or stuffy nose
• muscle or body aches
• feeling tired or having low energy
Some individuals may experience vomiting and diarrhea. People can be infected with the flu and have symptoms like these without having a fever.
The flu is an illness caused by one or more viruses and it spreads easily between people, either when someone with the flu talks, coughs or sneez,es and droplets containing their germs come into contact with your mouth, nose or eyes or if you touch something that has the flu virus on it and then touch your eyes, mouth, or nose. Seasonal flu is not the same as the stomach flu, although they can have similar symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea. Seasonal flu is a respiratory disease and not a stomach or intestinal disease.
By taking just a few steps, you can prevent the flu. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends taking the following three actions to fight the flu:
1. Get the flu vaccine each year.
This is the best way to prevent the flu, and it is required each year for active duty, National Guard, Army Reserve members and any healthcare personnel who provide direct patient care in military Medical Treatment Facilities. It is also recommended for all other beneficiaries aged six months and older. Caregivers to young children should receive the vaccine, especially those who care for infants younger than 6 months old. Adults aged 65 years and older, pregnant women, children, and those with chronic health conditions like asthma or diabetes are at higher risk of serious problems from the flu and should get the vaccine as soon as it becomes available. TRICARE beneficiaries can get the flu vaccine at no cost from any of the following places: Military hospitals and clinics, any TRICARE-authorized provider and participating network pharmacies. Be sure to call your clinic, pharmacy or provider to see when vaccine is available. Active duty, National Guard, Army Reserve, and those who provide direct patient care within MTFs and must get the flu vaccine are urged to follow the direction of their unit and/or supervisor.
2. Stop the spread of germs in everyday activities.
In addition to getting the vaccine, other steps that you can take to reduce your likelihood of getting the flu include:
1. Wash your hands often with soap and water. When you do not have access to soap and water use an alcohol-based hand rub. When washing your hands, do so for at least 20 seconds, which is as long as it takes you to hum the song "Happy Birthday" twice.
2. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you sneeze or cough, and throw the used tissue away.
3. Cough or sneeze in your upper sleeve or elbow when you don't have any tissue.
4. Avoid touching your mouth, nose or eyes.
5. Disinfect commonly used surfaces and objects, such as doorknobs and toys.
6. Keep away from people that may be sick.
7. Stay home from school, work or other group settings if you are sick, except to get medical care or to get items that you need.
8. Maintain good health habits by living the Performance Triad, a top priority of the Army surgeon general, which includes getting at least 7-8 hours of sleep every 24 hours, being active and eating healthy.
3. Take antiviral medicine if your healthcare provider gives them to you.
This medicine cannot cure the flu. However, it can make the illness shorter and can also prevent more serious problems. Antiviral medicine must be prescribed by a healthcare provider. The medicine works best when started within two days of getting sick. Follow your healthcare provider's instructions for taking the medicine.
By taking these three steps for yourself and your family, you can have a healthier flu season and help keep the Army family healthy! Health information products (brochures, posters, etc.) on influenza are available online in the U.S. Army Public Health Command Health Information Products eCatalog at https://usaphcapps.amedd.army.mil/hioshoppingcart/.