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DALLAS -- It's that time of year again -- flu season. This unwelcome guest generally makes its first appearance in November and lingers in various parts of the U.S. through about April each year. As the thermometer drops, people spend more time indoors together, creating an ideal medium for the opportunistic influenza A and B viruses to spread and multiply quickly. Turning a doorknob, flipping a light switch, or even sitting in the same chair someone sat in hours before is enough to expose you to the flu, and soon your friends, family and co-workers, who may not appreciate your spirit of giving, will all be able to thank you for spreading a little holiday misery their way.
Ear-Nose-and-Throat flu expert Jeffrey Adelglass, M.D. of Dallas urges, "The flu shot is the #1 most effective way to avoid the flu, making it 90 percent less likely you will contract influenza during the flu season. But because it takes about three weeks to build your immunity, it is important to receive your shot now. The longer you wait, the more opportunities you'll have to encounter the flu in the meantime, and you'll need your flu-fighting immunity fully-charged when you do."
The viruses in the flu shot are inactivated, so you cannot get the flu from a flu shot. The risk of side effects from receiving the flu vaccine is extremely small compared to the suffering and complications you could experience from having influenza itself. Especially among the elderly, who are at higher risk of life-threatening complications such as pneumonia, the flu vaccine can prevent hospitalization and possibly even death. Those who have had a severe reaction to eggs or to a flu shot in the past, however, should see a physician before receiving a flu shot.
Aside from taking the flu shot, there are a few very basic rules that if put into practical use can help to keep your immune system working its best and thereby keep the flu at bay: Frequent handwashing with regular soap and water and the use of alcohol-based disinfectant hand gels are a good first line of defense. Antibiotics are useless against influenza, and recent scientific research is showing that overuse of antibiotics and antibacterial soaps may actually be responsible for the creation of "super-germs" that are antibiotic-resistant. Also, make sure that you get enough rest and exercise, drink plenty of water, avoid over-consumption of alcohol, and eat a well- balanced, nutritional diet.
Flu symptoms include chills, body aches, cough and fever, and can last for up to 2 weeks. Unfortunately, many people that have the flu or suspect that they have been exposed to it take a "wait and see" approach, providing the flu ample time and opportunity to spread throughout the home or workplace, and into the community. What if you think you've been exposed to the flu? Rapid tests are now available that can diagnose whether or not you have it, within 10 to 20 minutes. With the results from a simple swab of the nose or throat, you can prevent regimens of ineffective antibiotics and painful therapies, and have a better chance of defeating the flu faster if you do, indeed, have it.