In the United States, approximately 200,000 people are hospitalized each year due to complications from seasonal flu, and influenza is one of the top 10 causes of death, according to information distributed by the Mountain Empire Epidemiology Task Force (MEETF) as it kicked off the “Keep Flu Out!” public awareness campaign.
Flu-related deaths have ranged from a low of 3,000 to a high of about 49,000 each year over the past 30 years, according to MEETF.
“It is extremely important for everyone to get vaccinated against the flu in order to protect their neighbors, friends and loved ones who may be at high risk or may not be able to receive a vaccination,” said Tennessee Health Commissioner Dr. John Dreyzehner. “We want Tennesseans to be good neighbors and practice the Golden Rule by taking this important step to protect health in our state.”
The vaccine is the single best way to avoid the flu, Dreyzehner and others health officials said, but they also urged everyone to remember the following basic steps to help stop the spread of flu:
• Frequent hand washing. Clean your hands by washing regularly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Parents need to make sure they wash the hands of small children and encourage frequent hand washing in older children.
• Avoid close contact with sick individuals.
• Stay home when you are sick.
• Urge employees to stay home when they are sick.
• Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, and throw the tissue away immediately. If tissue is not available, cough or sneeze into your sleeve.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
• Practice other good health habits such as getting plenty of sleep, managing stress, drinking plenty of fluids, eating nutritiously and being physically active.
“We want everyone to get the vaccine,” said Dr. Stephen May, medical director for the Sullivan County Regional Health Department. “But there are some people at higher risk.”
May said those include children under 5 years old — especially those under 2 years old (flu shots are not given to children under 6 months old), adults over age 65, pregnant women, people with lung-related problems or heart disease, diabetics, the morbidly obese, and those with weakened immune systems.
The vaccine isn’t as effective for those people, May said, so it is especially important for the people around them to be sure and get vaccinated as well.