The 2012-2013 flu season is well underway and surveillance data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) indicates that flu activity across the U.S. is higher than expected.  Twenty-nine states have reported high influenza-like illness activity and there is widespread geographic influenza activity in 41 states.  There have also been 18 reported pediatric deaths related to influenza.  Flu activity is also high in Canada.  According to most recent data from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), 5 regions have reported widespread activity and 17 regions have reported localized activity.  Fifteen deaths among adults 20 years old or older have been reported as well.

As first responders, you are used to taking care of others and putting their needs first, however maintaining your health is critical to protecting public health.  Here are some tips to help you stay healthy throughout this volatile flu season.

Get Vaccinated:
Getting vaccinated against the flu is the most important step you can take to prevent getting sick.  The CDC encourages everyone who is at least 6 months of age and older to get the flu vaccine.  People at high risk of complications from getting the flu (young children, those older than 65, pregnant women, those with asthma, diabetes, heart and lung disease) should be vaccinated.  Health workers and those who live with or care for high risk people should also be vaccinated.

Stop the Spread:
The flu virus can spread up to 6 feet between people through droplets released during coughing, sneezing, or even talking.  The flu virus can also survive on hard surfaces and then be spread by your hands.  The Red Cross offers several simple ways to prevent the spread of the flu virus:
•    Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, and throw the tissue away after use.  Cough or sneeze into your elbow or sleeve, not your hands.
•    Wash your hands often, especially after coughing or sneezing.  If soap and water is not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
•    Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
•    Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
Stay home if you are sick.  If you have flu-like symptoms, stay home until your fever has been gone for at least 24 hours (unless you are seeking medical care).

Take Your Medicine:
Anti-viral medication prescribed by your doctor can be used to treat the flu.  This medication works best if it is stated within the first 2 days of your symptoms.    Follow your doctor’s instructions and take all the medication as prescribed!

Stay Vigilant:
You can use social media sites such as Google Flu Tracker and Flu Near You to track flu activity in your area.  Here are several other resources you can use to get more information about the flu:

Stay healthy!