TRIPLER ARMY MEDICAL CENTER, Hawaii –
Wherever you are in the Pacific theater -near the Alaskan mountains, cruising along Interstate 5, or maybe visiting one of many exotic islands throughout the Indo-Pacific region - the flu season is here.
While the inevitable cough or sniffle is bound to occur at some point this season, that doesn’t mean you or your crew should have to suffer from the flu.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the best way to prevent seasonal flu is to get vaccinated every year.
For Soldiers, this is an annual requirement that starts in October. Family members, retirees and Department of Defense civilians are also highly encouraged to get vaccinated.
“We recommend for people to start getting their flu vaccinations as soon as they become available,” explained Capt. Everline Atandi, Tripler Army Medical Center Public Health nurse. “It’s the number one way to prevent the flu.”
For the U.S. Army, preventing the flu before it starts not only protects Soldiers and Families but also the mission.
“We try to lean forward as far as prevention, especially with our active duty military members,” explained Lt. Col. Fredrick Davidson, Public Health Command-Pacific Human Health Services director. “Disease is a non-battle injury, and throughout history, it has been the number one cause for a unit being ineffective.”
Every year the flu has a major impact to workplace operations. The CDC estimates that influenza resulted in 49 million illnesses, 960,000 hospitalizations and 79,000 deaths during the 2017 to 2018 flu season.
While some critics argue annual flu vaccinations are not beneficial since seasonal flu strains are unpredictable, vaccination developers are able to make effective predictions based on the previous flu season.
“According to a study conducted by the CDC, between 2012 and 2015 there was a drastic decrease of flu related illnesses due to more people getting the vaccine,” explained Atandi. “In fact, the vaccination is between 92 to 95 percent effective and the best way to protect yourself from the flu.”
Another misconception that Public Health nurses spend a lot of time debunking is how flu vaccinations impact pregnant women.
“One of the questions on our flu screening form is ‘Are you pregnant?’ This question causes some pregnant women to opt out from getting the flu vaccine before even discussing it with a healthcare provider,” said Atandi. “The fact is, it is highly recommended for pregnant women to get vaccinated. The vaccination protects both the mother and baby since antibodies are passed to the baby in utero. This is important since babies cannot receive vaccinations until they are at least six months of age. So this is the best way to protect a new baby from the flu.”
According to the CDC, the flu virus is spread mainly by tiny droplets made when people with the flu cough, sneeze or talk. Healthy people can contract the flu by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then by touching their own mouth, nose or eyes. Due to this type of transmission, the next best option to protect yourself against the flu is by washing your hands.
“Handwashing is extremely important,” explained Davidson. “The CDC recommends that you wash your hands for at least 30 seconds. The easiest way to do that is by singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to yourself. If you can sing that song all the way to the end that’s enough time to counter the effects of harmful germs.”
While vaccinations and handwashing are the top ways to prevent the spread of flu, health officials also recommend a few additional tips.
“If you cough, cough into your sleeve rather than your hands. If you are around other people that are coughing, distance yourself. Finally, if you don’t have soap and water, travel with hand sanitizer,” said Davidson.
The CDC goes several steps further by recommending individuals to stay home from work, school and errands when sick and to always avoid touching their eyes, nose or mouth.
While these tips can help you stop the spread of flu, ultimately the vaccination is the best weapon again the flu.
“Bottom-line, get the vaccine,” said Atandi. “It’s one of your benefits, it’s readily available, get it. There shouldn’t be any excuses.”
“It’s always better to be safe than sorry,” added Davidson. “But if you have any concerns, consult with your healthcare provider.”
For more information about this flu season and additional ways to protect you and your crew from the flu visit the CDC website at: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/index.htm