When we get our yearly flu shots, we assume we’re armed and ready to battle any nasty influenza germs that come our way. But did you know a shot is just the first line of defense—and that defense is not as powerful as we think?
According to the CDC, while it does lower the risk of contracting the flu by 40 to 60 percent, the flu shot doesn’t make us immune to the virus, and for patients over age 65, it’s even less effective. It’s up to us to be extra vigilant in protecting ourselves and our loved ones from the bug, especially since the 2019 flu season in St. Louis is expected to start sooner and last longer than in years past.
Stopping the flu in its tracks
During flu season, most of us take the right steps to fight off the flu, from avoiding crowds to whipping out the hand sanitizer. While these are a good start, there’s more we can all do to prevent the flu from infecting those most at risk, especially homebound seniors.
- Stop sharing – While someone in your house is sick, they should keep a few items to themselves, including dishes, cups and silverware (washed separately from the rest of the family’s), blankets and pillows, a trash can for used tissues, and hand and bath towels. To decrease exposure for other family members even more, designate a sick room (and if possible, a bathroom) for the patient that no one else should use.
- Separate your laundry – Washing clothes on high heat should kill any germs, right? Unfortunately, once you toss one germy t-shirt into the washing machine, it will spread to 90 percent of the other clothes in the drum. Be sure to wash the infected person’s clothing separately and then run a wash cycle with hot water and bleach before adding another load.
- Disinfect—then disinfect again – Flu germs are extremely difficult to destroy, and many cleaners aren’t powerful enough to take them down. When cleaning, use a disinfectant that says “kills influenza viruses” on the label and follow directions exactly. Or, combine ½ cup of bleach per one gallon of water and start scrubbing down. It’s best to leave the solution on the surface for a few minutes and allow it to air dry. Pay special attention to bathroom faucets, doorknobs, light switches, and most importantly, the remote control.
- Break out the essential oils – Essential oils have their critics, but when it comes to the flu, anything you can add to the mix to stop the spread and reduce the side effects is beneficial. Tea tree oil, rosemary oil and blue yarrow, for instance, are all found to offer effective antibacterial and antiviral properties. Just be sure to dilute the oil first before cleaning.
- Keep cautious in the weeks to come – Patients are most contagious up to five to seven days after symptoms first appear, and in rare cases, up to two weeks. If you display any flu symptoms—even if you’re on medication and starting to feel better—it’s best to let someone else handle the cooking and caretaking if you live with a senior who is particularly susceptible.
Because seniors are more prone to flu complications, especially pneumonia, which kills 50,000 adults each year, it’s best to minimize their risk if the flu bug does sneak in. The CDC recommends that everyone over age 65, those with weakened immunity and anyone who smokes also get the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine in addition to following good hygiene practices. If your loved one is homebound, talk to their home health care team as early in the flu season as possible to learn about other healthy habits everyone in the house can follow.