By Melissa Rivera
We spend a lot of time about how to prepare for natural disasters like earthquakes, wildfires and hurricanes. Yet every year, seasonal influenza kills between 12,000 and 56,000 people and hospitalizes 140,000 to 710,000, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
And this year’s flu season, extending between October and April, is shaping up to be a bad one. At this time last year, the Arizona Department of Health had reported fewer than 350 seasonal flu cases. This year, it’s reported almost 3,000. By mid-December, Colorado typically sees about 150 people hospitalized for seasonal flu. This year, it’s seen 566, according to The Denver Post.
Normally, the peak time for seasonal flu is late December through February. But this year, 12 states have already reported widespread flu cases. Even worse, the most common strain circulating is influenza A (H3N2). This strain tends to hit children and older people especially hard, and vaccines don’t tend to work as well on it, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians.
Are you prepared for flu season? It’s not too late.
Most of you haven’t gotten a flu shot. (Three-fifths of you, as of November, according to the CDC.) Please get one. It takes about two weeks for the vaccine to be effective, which means if you get it today, it’ll be effective just as the worst of flu season gets going. You can get one in a myriad of places, from doctor’s offices to drugstores, and insurance often covers most or all of it.
Then use them. A Michigan State University study found only 5 percent of public bathroom users washed their hands for at least 15 seconds, as the CDC recommends. A third of people didn’t wash with soap, and 10 percent didn’t wash their hands at all. Eww. A Korean survey found 93 percent of respondents didn’t wash their hands after coughing or sneezing. Eww.
Consider buying hospital masks if you’re around sick people. One study during a New Zealand flu pandemic found people who used masks had a massively reduced risk of catching the virus from sick family members.
Finally, every month put some money aside into a short-term savings account, so your primary breadwinner(s) can stay home if family members are sick with flu-like symptoms.
The CDC recommends you stay home for at least 24 hours after a fever has subsided, unless you need medical care or necessities. You could be at home for days. Do you have enough savings to afford day-to-day expenses if you can’t work for a week? What about the cost of doctor visits or hospital stays?
Seasonal flu isn’t nearly as glamorous as other natural disasters. Yet what are you more likely to face? Seasonal flu or a fire? Seasonal flu or a tornado? Considering how many people get it, are hospitalized by it, or die from it every year, isn’t a few minutes of flu preparation worth the time?