Each flu season, we are bombarded with tips and tricks on how to skirt the formidable virus. However, this year we may be a little more prepared than other flu seasons, in part, due to COVID-19 practices and preparation. Here’s everything you need to know about the Florida flu season, including tips on staying healthy and how the flu is spread.
What is the flu?
Influenza refers to many types of flu viruses that infect the respiratory system and cause a variety of symptoms in the body. It’s highly contagious and is quickly spread from person to person when environmental conditions are right.
According to the CDC, the flu enters the body through various mucus membranes, including the nose, eyes, and mouth. It binds to a cell in the respiratory tract and releases its copy of genetic info (RNA) to the cell’s nucleus. The virus basically hijacks the cell, making a bunch of copies of itself, until the cell dies and releases all of these flu copies out into the rest of the respiratory system.
Sneezing and coughing cause the flu to spread rapidly, as it travels on moisture through the air. It’s particularly important to not share personal items and to wash hands frequently to mitigate the spread of the flu.
Influenza type A can affect both people and animals but more commonly exhibits its symptoms – coughing, sneezing, vomiting – in human beings. Birds are a common carrier of Type-A influenza.
Type B can only affect humans and is typically less harmful than Type-A flu. However, certain strains can be extremely dangerous. Influenza A is more common than B and makes up the majority of flu season illnesses we tend to see. For more information on types of flu, severity, and the virus’s history as it has affected our country, visit the CDC for more info.
Should you get a flu shot?
In short, yes. The CDC recommends that almost everyone get a flu shot, except those in very specific, rare circumstances. Think about the flu shot like a practice run for the actual flu. The flu vaccine works by introducing a small amount of (dead/deactivated) flu virus cells to the body, prompting an immune system response. As the immune system learns about the new flu strain, it comes up with ways to attack and suppress it.
The immune system then commits these actions to memory so it can be ready for the real thing. When you come into contact with the actual flu, your body can get rid of it because it is already familiar with the process. Some people have more symptoms from the flu shot than others, but light symptoms can mean the vaccine is working.
The flu shot is different each year, so getting it the year prior may not be helpful for this year’s strain. Scientists take their best guess as to which strain will spread and affect people most during that year. The vaccine then takes this strain and uses it to help people avoid coming down with the virus’s awful symptoms. There’s no surefire way to know which strain will spread the fastest but getting a flu shot certainly decreases your chances of getting it.
The Florida Department of Health advises getting your flu shot as soon as possible. Even if you contract the flu, the vaccine can help minimize the effect of symptoms. For those in high-risk groups, this is especially helpful in keeping hospitals clear and open for COVID patients.
Pregnant women, young children, and the elderly who have compromised immune systems are especially at risk of developing complications from contracting the flu virus. While the flu’s symptoms aren’t particularly deadly, the weakened immune system that comes with the flu can leave those with already compromised systems exposed to other, more severe illnesses.
A flu shot can help mitigate the risk of these groups. However, your health care provider will be better equipped at advising when you should seek this vaccination and when you should skip.
Section 2 – Are you safer in Florida?
While it’s difficult to say where individuals may be safer during the nation’s flu season, the weather certainly can have an effect on severity and spread. The flu virus can survive for longer periods of time in cold weather. Plus, those who live in harsh winter climates spend less time outdoors and more time in poorly-ventilated, closed environments.
Florida’s mild winter temperatures mean that individuals can still dine outside, get plenty of exercise, and soak up all that Vitamin D. The flu virus is less likely to remain alive in warmer temperatures and has a more difficult time traveling from person to person through the warm air.
While the Florida flu season still requires residents to exercise caution, they can mitigate the spread by hanging outside, remaining physically distanced, and partaking in daily exercise.
What can Floridians do to stay healthy? How can UCF help?
Practice Healthy Habits
Establishing a health-conscious routine can be one of the best ways to stay well. Our immune systems are constantly under attack and even more so with the lack of sunshine, outdoor time, and vitamin D. Our immune systems perform a vital function, defending our entire body from bacteria, cell changes, viruses, and other harmful substances that could prove detrimental to our existence.
A variety of factors can harm our immune systems, causing them to lag or be increasingly vulnerable. Everything from stress to a lack of sleep can alter our immune systems. Establishing a health-conscious routine that considers all factors – diet, exercise, rest, and mental health – can prepare our bodies for a harsh flu season.
Avoid Close Contact
Social distancing has unfortunately become the norm for face-to-face interactions. But fortunately, the majority of us are already in the habit of giving other individuals a safe distance when interacting in close quarters.
In addition to staying physically distanced from others, avoid going to spaces that are likely to be crowded and enclosed. Most germs are spread through the air via a sneeze, cough, or exhale. In poorly ventilated spaces, germs have a tendency to stick around for much longer than in open, airy spaces.
Take Care of Your Mental Health
We often overlook the mental body inside our physical one. The past year has taken its toll on many individuals, giving way to financial insecurity, job loss, relationship stress, and more. Stress, anxiety, sadness, and anger can be detrimental to our immune systems and overall well-being. Make sure that, in addition to exercise and a healthy diet, you take time to participate in self-care. Whether that looks like scheduling an appointment with a therapist, spending an hour meditating, or treating yourself to a massage, prioritize giving yourself a break from life’s daily stressors.
For many of us with routine jobs, we often think the kinder thing to do is to suck it up and tough it out. We don’t want to shirk our responsibilities or leave necessary tasks to others. However, when feeling sick, stay home, and avoid contact with other individuals. It actually is the kinder thing to do and your coworkers, friends, and family will thank you.
Make sure to share your symptoms with people you have been in contact with recently to ensure they are also aware of a potential illness and ready to stay isolated until it passes. The flu is transmitted so quickly because of a variety of conditions that collide during the winter months. Removing yourself from the equation from the onset of any flu or cold-like symptoms may help mitigate the spread through your office, school, or gym entirely.
The Florida Department of Health consistently updates flu season spread and can be an excellent tool for monitoring outbreaks in your area. Consider this when visiting establishments such as gyms, grocery stores, and the like. By avoiding these areas, you can remove yourself from the potential of contracting, then spreading the flu.
UCF Health Services offers ample resources on staying healthy year-round, but particularly during flu season. Our family medicine doctors are well versed in preventative measures for Florida flu season and can provide expert care should you fall ill from this virus. What’s more, we prioritize staying up to date with the latest medical news and offer current COVID-19 updates for patients.
Our convenient online scheduling tool and patient portal mean that you don’t have to sit on hold booking an appointment, requesting medical records, or awaiting test results. At UCF Health, your health care is of the utmost importance to us.