With widespread flu activity across most of the U.S., avoiding exposure can be difficult, but Loyola Medicine primary care physician Mary Barsanti-Sekhar, MD, offers some advice to minimize the risk.
First off, it's not too late to get the flu shot.
"There's still time to get the flu shot," Dr. Barsanti-Sekhar said. "The flu shot helps lessen symptoms and protects those around you as well."
Loyola Medicine continues to see a record number of flu cases and this year's flu season is expected to extend into March or April. Between January 27 and February 17, more than 2,400 patients were tested for the flu virus, with 962 positive diagnoses over the 28 days.
For the 2017-18 flu season, 1,836 cases of flu have been diagnosed at Loyola compared to 726 positive cases in 2016-17.
While Influenza A has been the bigger factor in this year's flu season, Influenza B has seen a recent increase in the area. This year's flu vaccine has been shown to be much more effective against Influenza B than Influenza A.
When it comes to avoiding the flu, Dr. Barsanti-Sekhar said good hand hygiene is one of the best ways to keep from getting sick.
"Washing hands with soap and water is the best option," she said. "Anti-bacteria alcohol gels are okay to use if you don't have access to soap and water. Frequent hand washing, especially after being in public places, helps lessen the chance of exposure."
Dr. Barsanti-Sekhar said there are certain items to try to avoid touching when in public, including door handles, tables, countertops and shared phones.
"Any items that are frequently being touched and not routinely being disinfected, you want to try to avoid," Dr. Barsanti-Sekhar. "And if you do touch them, be sure not to touch your mouth or face after being in contact with those items until you can wash your hands."
Serious complications can occur from the flu for at-risk populations. Those with chronic health conditions, pregnant women, the elderly and children younger than five years old should contact their doctor if concerned about exposure.
If you do get the flu, Dr. Barsanti-Sekhar said, be sure to avoid contact with friends and family and stay home from work to avoid spreading the virus. Regularly disinfect surfaces that you are touching.
"The best defense against the flu is to be healthy before you are exposed," she said. "Make sure you are getting enough rest, exercising and eating right."
Dr. Barsanti-Sekhar sees patients at the Loyola Outpatient Center and the Loyola Center for Health at Park Ridge.