Wash your hands, cover your mouth...it's cold, flu time
It's that time of year again: More and more people are starting to come down with colds and influenza.
"The peak flu season is typically November through February, though it can linger for longer than that," said Ronda Stock, supervisor of Becker County Community Health, the area's primary public health agency.
"We're right in the thick of it -- the prime vaccination period is now," Stock added. "Hopefully most people have been vaccinated by this time."
But for those who haven't, it's still not too late.
"The flu vaccine is readily available," Stock said.
Area health clinics, pharmacies, and even Walmart have all been offering flu shots this season.
"We (public health) used to be the primary venue for flu shots, but we're not any longer," Stock said. "We're not doing flu shot clinics this year, because the flu vaccine is everywhere."
Those still considering whether to get a flu shot also shouldn't be discouraged by recent statistics on the efficiency of the vaccine.
"The latest report is that the vaccine we have right now is only about 59 percent effective," Stock said. "That may be true, however... 59 percent is better than zero."
Stock compared it to using seat belts when riding in a motor vehicle. Wearing a seat belt won't prevent passengers from becoming injured, but it can lessen the severity of some injuries.
"It's (the vaccine) not 100 percent effective, but it's the best defense we have right now," she said. "It's still encouraged (to get the flu shot) -- very much so."
According to the Minnesota Department of Public Health and Centers for Disease Control, there are four groups of people in particular who are particularly vulnerable to the flu, and should be immunized: Those 6 months to 19 years old; those aged 65 years or older; pregnant women or women planning to become pregnant; and those with chronic health concerns such as pulmonary conditions.
Those who should not get the flu shot include people with a severe allergy to chicken eggs and those who have had a severe reaction to the vaccination in the past, and children under six months of age.
Anyone with a moderate or severe illness that includes a fever and/or congestion should wait until the symptoms dissipate before getting a flu shot.
Though there is no similar vaccine available for the common cold, there are several common sense prevention methods that people can employ to keep it from spreading, Stock said.
"It's the same type of thing whether you have a cold or the flu," she said. "Be good to yourself with good nutrition, hydration, and treat the symptoms with ibuprofen or acetaminophen (or other similar medications), and some good rest.
"Rest is very important," Stock said. "When you have the genuine flu, you're not going to feel real ambitious -- you're going to want to stay in bed anyway."
Also, proper hygiene becomes particularly important when trying to prevent the spread of colds and flu, Stock said.
"Wash your hands, cover your cough or sneeze (with a tissue or your hands) -- and stay home while you're sick."
A typical cold or flu bout shouldn't last longer than a week to 10 days; if it lingers longer than that, a visit to the doctor may be in order (if you haven't been there already).