We’re approximately one month into flu season, and the sounds of coughs, sniffles and sneezes are growing louder.
Preventive measures don’t have to carry a high price. Though they’re not fail-safe, you can take some simple steps to avoid getting sick. According to Stephanie Harper, director of the Roanoke and Alleghany health department districts, the best protection against the flu is the vaccine.
The vaccine became available in September, but it’s not too late to get your shot. Harper said flu season can last through April or May, with the season peaking in January and February. Until you get your flu shot and for two weeks after, your body is unprotected against the virus. Getting vaccinated now will protect you through that peak time of year, she said.
“It takes two weeks after you receive the vaccine for antibodies to develop,” Harper explained. “That’s the case in most healthy adults.”
There’s no shortage of places to get a flu shot. Many chain pharmacies, like CVS, Walgreens and Kroger, will administer flu vaccines without an appointment and even offer incentives. Currently, CVS is distributing shopping passes offering a 20-percent discount to anyone who gets a vaccine in its pharmacy. However, the most affordable place to get a flu shot depends on your insurance plan. Generally, vaccines from the Virginia Department of Health are a safe and affordable bet for anyone.
Local health department clinics, including the Community Wellness Center on the lower level of Valley View Mall, accept all forms of insurance and provide flu shots with no out-of-pocket cost for the uninsured or underinsured.
According to a press release from the VDH, Roanoke and Alleghany district clinics will welcome walk-ins on Fridays during flu season. The Roanoke City Health Department, located at 1502 Williamson Road, will also allow walk-ins on Thursday evenings from 4 to 6 p.m. More information about clinic hours and closings can be found at www.vdh.virginia.gov.
Other simple preventive measures the VDH recommends include frequently washing your hands with soap, using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, avoiding contact with anyone you know is sick, and keeping your hands away from your eyes, nose and mouth.
While there are many pricey over-the-counter products that promise a boost for your immune system, there’s no clear proof that they help deter the flu.
“I think, in general, the jury is still out on some of those common remedies,” Harper said. “Until we have better information, those wouldn’t be my first choices.
“It’s not necessarily that we think these things are harmful, there’s just more information we could get on them.”
If you do choose to take supplements to prevent the flu, always consult your doctor and keep some tips in mind. Vitamin C has been shown to help some people when taken at the beginning of a cold or the flu, Harper explained. And it’s best to take zinc (with food) within 24 hours of getting sick.
Harper also advised that most people’s immune systems are fine, so supplemental products may not be worth the money.
For anyone who comes down with the flu, there are some affordable remedies.
The VDH advises anyone who is sick with a flu-like illness should stay home for at least 24 hours after the fever is gone without the use of fever-reducing medication, like acetaminophen. Dehydration is usually a problem for those suffering from the flu, so drink plenty of liquids. Harper also suggested gargling with saltwater (half a teaspoon of salt per eight ounces of water) to help a sore throat and running a humidifier or vaporizer to help ease congestion and coughing.
The flu is caused by a virus, so in some cases, antiviral drugs can be prescribed by your doctor. However, don’t visit the doctor expecting antibiotics — those treat bacterial infections.
Harper said that some over-the-counter products can help treat flu symptoms, but it’s important to read labels.
“One thing to always keep in mind for everyone, with respect to OTC medication, is that you don’t want to take two medicines with the same active ingredient,” she explained. And many medications shouldn’t be taken for an extended period of time, like nasal decongestion products, aspirin and acetaminophen.
When in doubt, always consult a doctor or pharmacist.