Flu season is just beginning, but so are the deaths. Already two elderly women in southeastern Minnesota have died from the disease, and with no requirement that individual health departments report flu deaths of adults to the CDC, there's no telling if they're the first. So why should you be scared?
The CDC is practically begging Americans to protect themselves from a disease they estimate kills 36,000 people every year.
Unfortunately, it's impossible to put an exact number on the deaths: the reporting from individual health departments is only for flu deaths in children, and death certificates rarely list influenza as the cause of death. In certain higher-risk populations, it isn't even influenza that directly kills the patient -- it's a secondary condition worsened or caused by the influenza.
The lack of definitive numbers lulls people into a false sense of security. In turn, you have a staggering number of people who refuse annually to get the flu shot based on faulty science (using anecdotal evidence, for example, to claim they got the flu from the flu shot even though it's scientifically impossible to contract a virus from a dead vaccine).
A full half of American adults refuse to get their shot, often using reasons like "I don't get sick."
But people die. You can look no farther than southeastern Minnesota where two families are in mourning to realize you SHOULD be afraid.
So how can you protect yourself?
1. Get a Flu Shot. Provided you don't have an egg allergy or some other legitimate medical reason to avoid this, it's a no-brainer.
2. Wash Your Hands. There's a reason the CDC touts the slogan "Clean Hands Save Lives." A good rub down with soap and warm water for a full 20 seconds is all that could stand between you and a week in bed.
3. Skip the Supplements. Echinacea and the like haven't been proven to do much for you besides giving you a false sense of security. Check with your doctor before taking anything that's non-prescription.
4. Keep Your Hands Out of Your Eyes/Nose. Touching the grocery cart, office door handle, etc. followed by a swipe of your eyes or nose gives the germs the perfect chance to settle in and get to work at making you feel like you've been hit by a truck. The nose and eyes are warm, most environments, the kind viruses love.
5. Keep Your Distance. If you're a close talker, back off. And face forward in the elevator. The less time you spend up close and personal with other people, the safer you are from their germs.
6. Stay Home if You're Sick. It may be too late for you, but you can prevent the flu from spreading through the office if you are smart about it. Bosses, heed the warning -- leaning on your employees to work sick just means you'll end up with an entire staff of miserable people. It will decrease productivity, and you'll be called a lot of mean names behind your back.
What are you doing to prepare?
Image via USACE Europe District/Flickr