Influenza and how to protect yourself

Staff Sgt. Bianca Raleigh, 31st Medical Operations Squadron allergy and immunizations technician, prepares a vaccine, Aug. 14, 2013, at Aviano Air Base, Italy. The immunizations clinic is responsible for giving service members vaccines to protect them from diseases while deployed. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Matthew Lotz)

Influenza, commonly called the "flu," is a contagious viral infection that affects the respiratory system. The Centers for Disease Control recommends obtaining the influenza vaccine for anyone over six months of age as the first line of protection against the virus. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Matthew Lotz)

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- Influenza, commonly called the "flu," is a contagious viral infection that affects the respiratory system. Influenza can be an unpredictable and serious disease that can lead to hospitalization and sometimes even death.

Seasonal influenza contributes to substantial morbidity and mortality each year in the United States. In the 2012- 2013 influenza season, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that there were approximately 380,000 influenza-associated hospitalizations. Although influenza activity, nationally, is currently at low levels, some areas of the United States are already experiencing high influenza activity.

Influenza viruses are spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of nearby people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. Less often, a person might also get flu by touching a surface or object that has the flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth or nose.

Symptoms of the flu can include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people may also have vomiting and diarrhea. If these symptoms present, seek medical attention immediately to prevent further spread.

There are ways to help minimize the spread of the influenza virus that will help to protect you, your family, and the mission. The CDC recommends obtaining the influenza vaccine for anyone over six months of age as the first line of protection against the virus.

It is important to know that the influenza vaccine is not 100 percent effective yet it will significantly decrease the severity of symptoms. The next best step is to ensure proper hand washing. Hand washing is like a "do-it-yourself" vaccine--it involves five simple and effective steps, think "Wet, Lather, Scrub, Rinse, Dry," you can take to reduce the spread of the influenza virus. You can also protect yourself by avoiding close contact with people that are sick and by practicing overall good health habits.

"Remember that flu antiviral drugs are a second line of defense to treat flu illness," said Tech. Sgt. Theresia Anderson, Public Health NCO in charge. "Flu activity is widespread and is likely to continue, If you have not gotten your flu vaccine yet this season, you should get one now."

The 17th Medical Group Immunization's Clinic is open Monday through Friday, with the exception of holidays and third Thursday of each month, from 7:30 to 11:30 a.m. and 1 to 3 p.m.

For more information, contact the Immunization's Clinic at 325-654-1484.