Flu Is the Last Thing You Need. 5 Steps to Avoid Infection.

Older female provider administering flu vaccine.

With all the attention paid to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us are loath to think about another respiratory virus that, every year, makes people very sick and can even result in death.

But just like COVID-19, we have a powerful weapon to fight it: the flu vaccine.

Jessie Leyse, MD, MPH, infectious disease expert at UVM Health Network – Central Vermont Medical Center, says a flu vaccine, just like the COVID-19 vaccine, can reduce your chances of getting sick, but also reduces the severity of symptoms. That means you are less likely to need to go to your doctor or the hospital for care. And right now, with health systems strained from treating COVID-19 patients – a vast majority of whom are unvaccinated – the last thing you need is a nasty case of the flu.

“The health care system is always busy this time of year during respiratory illness season, but now with COVID-19 circulating it’s even more important to minimize your risk of getting sick,” Dr. Leyse says.

Everyone six months and older should get a flu shot. (Find a flu vaccine nearest you.) You can even get the flu and COVID-19 vaccines at the same time.

Along with getting vaccinated, Dr. Leyse also has these tips to help protect yourself against the flu, COVID-19, or whatever respiratory virus is floating around this winter.

Mask Up: Wearing a mask when out in public, especially inside, offers proven protection against both the flu and COVID-19. Places like movie theaters, grocery stores and other businesses are starting to mandate masks again.

Social Distancing: Staying at least six feet away from others, especially inside, even with a mask on, is also proven to help prevent the spread of the flu and COVID-19. Keep your distance from anyone who has a fever and/or a cough. As always, if you feel sick, stay home!

Wash Your Hands: Soap and water is an excellent way to keep your hands clean. When a sink isn’t available, hand sanitizer can be effective. Keep hand sanitizer in your car, handbag or pocket. Use the hand sanitizer at the entrance to many businesses, both going in and leaving, to help prevent bringing a virus home.

Take Precautions When Traveling: If you are visiting family and everyone is vaccinated, feeling healthy and free of symptoms, your risk is reduced. However, you might want to take extra precautions – or even cancel that trip – if there are unvaccinated family or friends in the mix. People can transmit the flu about 24 hours before they even feel sick or show symptoms. For COVID-19, that time increases to 48 hours.

Dr. Leyse says the best way to protect yourself and others around you is to make sure that everybody is vaccinated and asymptomatic – both for flu and COVID-19 – before getting together. If you are traveling, take a COVID-19 rapid test before you go. Home rapid tests are easy to use, yield results quickly and are available at many retail pharmacies. Currently, there are no home rapid tests for the flu.

For a healthier tomorrow, get vaccinated today.

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