Welcome to winter, mamas! Yes, we’re all busy wrapping gifts and making hot chocolate, but ’tis also the season for influenza.
Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicated that this flu season was off to the worst start it has seen in about 10 years. The numbers of reported flu cases across the U.S. are high for this time of year and continue to climb.
Influenza is not the common cold. It is a contagious respiratory illness that, unlike the common cold, can lead to pneumonia, bacterial infections, or hospitalizations. Everyone is at risk; however, for those at high risk of developing flu-related complications, like pregnant women and babies, the importance of preventing the flu is significant.
Actress Sarah Chalke, who played Dr. Elliot Reid on Scrubs, is also a mom and flu vaccine advocate. She spoke with P&N about why she’s involved with the American Lung Association’s Faces of Influenza campaign. Long before she became a mom, she was aware of the impact of yearly flu shots, “I come from a long line of well-vaccinated Canadians.”
“When I was pregnant, I was first in line to get it,” she explains. “Now that I’m a mom, I believe, more than ever, in the importance of getting a flu shot.” Her son, now almost three, has been vaccinated every year as well.
Moms-to-be experience changes to their immune systems which make them more sensitive to the flu. Contracting the flu increases the risk of premature labor and delivery. Also, fever in early pregnancy can lead to birth defects. New guidelines call for infants six months and older to be given two doses of the flu vaccine to be fully protected.
We asked Sarah what she would tell an expecting friend about the flu shot. She urges anyone, pregnant or not, to get vaccinated. “If you’re going to be around little ones that are in the higher risk categories, protect them by protecting yourself and getting your flu shot … and get it every year.”
The flu vaccine is widely available. Not sure where to go in your neighborhood? Ask your doctor, pediatrician or use the Find a Flu Shot tool.
In addition to getting your flu shot, the CDC recommends practicing these good health habits year-round to help stop the spread of germs.
1. Avoid close contact. Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.
2. Stay home when you are sick. If possible, stay home from work, school, and errands when you are sick. You will help prevent others from catching your illness.
3. Cover your mouth and nose. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. It may prevent those around you from getting sick.
4. Clean your hands. Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
5. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth.
6. Practice other good health habits. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.