Flu Vaccine and Handwashing Week

Two ways to stop the flu that go hand-in-hand.

This year, both National Influenza Vaccination Week and National Handwashing Awareness Week are being observed during the first week of December. While that may be a coincidence, it happens to be a happy one. Both a flu shot and good handwashing habits are instrumental in helping to prevent a communicable disease that’s uncommonly dangerous.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, between 37 million and 43 million Americans contracted the flu last year, leading to upwards of 647,000 hospitalizations and as many as 61,200 deaths. Needless to say, even if you’re able to outlast the flu at home (after a week or so of misery), avoiding the flu should be high on your priority list as we enter the heart of flu season.

Wash Your Hands for Better Health

Doorknobs, coffee cups, hand rails, elevator buttons, keyboards … every day, we touch countless objects that have been handled by other people. Touching is one of the most common ways that germs are spread — and it’s not just the flu. Hepatitis A, MRSA, E. coli, noroviruses and the common cold are all often spread hand-to-hand.

In addition to being the best way to avoid the flu (aside from a flu shot), studies show that handwashing can:

  • Prevent 1 in 3 diarrhea-related illnesses
  • Prevent 1 in 5 infections
  • Help reduce antibiotic resistance — fewer infections means the need for fewer antibiotics, which helps prevent antibiotic resistance

The key to effectively killing germs is to be thorough. Wash with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds, be sure to get the backs of hands, between fingers and under nails, and dry with a clean towel. Even then, be sure to keep your fingers away from your eyes, nose and mouth, and avoid coughing or sneezing into your hands.

Preventing the Flu: Handwashing Beats Hand Sanitizers

While alcohol-based hand sanitizers are convenient, they’re far less effective at killing the influenza A virus than good old soap and water. In a recent study out of Japan, handwashing deactivated the virus in 30 seconds, while hand sanitizers required at least four minutes to do the same job. So listen to your mom’s sage advice: wash your hands.

Get Your Flu Shot

If you’re more than six months old (and it’s a pretty safe bet that you are), the CDC recommends that you get a flu shot every year — and for good reason. An annual immunization tops the list of ways to prevent the flu. Side effects are rare (and generally mild), and the rumors of getting the flu from a flu shot are myths. The vaccine is made from a dead virus.

The benefits of a flu shot are numerous:

  • When the vaccine matches circulating strains, the risk of having to go to the doctor because of the flu is reduced 40-60%.
  • The risk of flu-associated hospitalization is reduced by 40% among adults.
  • The risk of pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) admission for kids is reduced 74%.
  • ICU visits among adults is reduced 82%.
    It reduces the severity of flu symptoms in people who get vaccinated but still get the flu (which can happen if you’re exposed to the virus after your vaccine but before you build up immunity).
  • Protects women before and after pregnancy, reducing the risk of respiratory infection by up to 50%.
  • A flu shot also helps to prevent serious medical issues for people with chronic conditions that can be exasperated by the flu, including heart disease, diabetes and chronic lung disease.

But just as importantly as protecting yourself, a flu shot helps to protect the people around you. Babies, the elderly and people with existing health conditions are all far more vulnerable to flu symptoms. By getting the vaccine, you’re helping to prevent the spread of the flu to the people who need to avoid it most.

Don’t Wait!

Flu season is ramping up, so now’s the time to take action. St. Clair Urgent Care offers the flu shot for kids, adults and the high-dose flu shot for seniors. Stop by our Village Square location at 2000 Oxford Drive in Bethel Park, open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. (‘til 5 p.m. on major holidays), seven days a week, https://www.stclair.org/services/az-listing/urgent-care/.

And remember to wash your hands.