Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that this year’s flu has reached epidemic status. Despite that fact, more than 60 percent of Americans might skip getting vaccinated.
Since the media coverage regarding the flu seems as wide spread as the flu itself, we asked Dr. Kevin Ronneberg, Associate Medical Director, Target, to debunk flu myths and answer some need-to-know health questions.
First thing to know? Getting vaccinated is your best shot at staying flu free, and it’s not too late. Here’s what else you need to know.
Is this year’s flu really an epidemic?
KR: It is an epidemic, but according to the CDC, epidemics of flu happen every year. What varies is the timing, severity and length of the epidemic, and that depends on many factors, including what influenza viruses are spreading, whether they match the viruses in the vaccine and how many people get the vaccine.
What should people do to protect themselves and their families against the flu?
KR: To protect against the flu and prevent spreading germs, families should do a couple of things.
- Get vaccinated. Prevention is the key to staying healthy during cold and flu season.
- Think Twice Before You Share. Avoid sharing food, drinks, utensils or chapstick during cold and flu season. Germs can easily carry from one person to the other. Even if you feel well, flu symptoms can take one to three days to appear following exposure—you may be spreading illness and not even know it!
- Clean up after playtime. After playtime, kids should immediately wash their hands. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer like Target’s Up & Up hand sanitizer with aloe.
- Cover up your cough. Teach kids to cough or sneeze into the crook of their arms or cover their mouths, then wash their hands. This will help to prevent the spread of viruses to people nearby.
- Get up and go. During moderate exercise, immune cells circulate more quickly through the body and increase their ability to kill bacteria and viruses.
With so many vaccine options, how do people determine which option is best for them?
KR: We encourage guests to talk to their health care provider or pharmacist about the best options. Target pharmacists are approachable, credible health care resources for questions and suggestions on over-the-counter medications, as well as support for health issues like cold and flu.
What types of flu shots are available at Target?
KR: Target Pharmacy offers the traditional flu shot along with two new options this year: the intradermal flu shot and the high-dose flu shot. Target Clinic offers the traditional flu shot, intradermal flu shot and the high-dose flu shot, along with a pediatric flu shot and the nasal mist. Target offers preservative-free and latex-free flu vaccines. It’s best to speak with your provider or pharmacist to determine the best option.
Does the flu shot give people the flu as some believe?
KR: No, this is a myth. A flu shot contains dead or inactive viruses needed to prime your body to fight an infection, but the viruses aren’t contagious and do not cause the flu.
Is it too late to get vaccinated?
KR: While it is best to get vaccinated early to ensure you are protected at the height of flu season, it is never too late to get a flu shot. Once you receive your flu vaccine it may take up to two weeks to have the full benefit and protection against influenza.
How can people tell if they have the flu or just a really bad cold?
KR: The common cold and influenza are both respiratory illnesses, but they differ in severity and are caused by different types of viruses. The flu is usually more severe and marked by fever, body aches, extreme tiredness, muscle aches and a dry cough, whereas cold symptoms are generally milder and include a stuffy nose, sore throat and sneezing or coughing. While colds generally do not result in serious health problems, influenza can sometimes lead to pneumonia and require hospitalization.
When should people seek medical treatment for the flu?
KR: My motto is, “When in doubt, call or visit your health care provider.” I recommend consulting a doctor if you experience any major symptoms (shortness of breath, chest or abdominal pain, persistent vomiting, cold lasting more than 10 days) as these may signify complications from the flu-like bronchitis or pneumonia.
Are there over-the-counter products people can take to help treat symptoms of the flu?
KR: Target carries many products that can help treat flu symptoms. Check out my flu-fighting tool kit, below.
Vicks Vapo Rub. The cooling sensation from vapor rubs may help kids sleep better at night.
Children’s Tylenol Meltaways. When it comes to reducing fevers, aches and pains associated with the flu, this is a great option for kids. No spoon or water is needed, making it a great option for busy families.
Mucinex. An expectorant like Mucinex will help loosen phlegm, making it easier to have a productive cough or clear your nose while you are sick.
Cough drops. Stock up on cough drops to help calm coughs and soothe sore throats.