Protecting yourself and others from the flu

HUNTSVILLE Ala. -- The flu is hammering Alabama hard this year, with most of the state experiencing widespread flu activity, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health.

"It does seem to be one of the stronger flu seasons we've had in some time," said Dr. David Huff, with Huntsville Hospital Employee Health Clinic at Research Park.

Doctor Huff said flu symptoms might start with a sore throat or a cough, and can develop into head and body aches, fever, and fatigue. But he says symptoms are different with everybody.

If you think you have the flu, Dr. Huff says you should immediately isolate yourself, stay hydrated, and take medicine for your aches and pains. "Following that, if you really are starting to feel worse and you think that you have the flu, well you can get it checked."

Huff said to go to your doctor and get a nasal swab test, that is fairly accurate if done right. "If you say, 'They stuck the swab really far in my nose, it made my eyes water,' that's probably a pretty good sample," Huff said.

Whether you're at your doctors, an urgent care, or the hospital, he said to be prepared to wait. "It's gonna be crowded. People say I don't want to wait, I don't want to wait. It's gonna be crowded wherever you go this time of year."

If you are diagnosed with the flu, Dr. Huff said many patients will be prescribed Tamiflu, after that he says it's back to hydrating and staying away from other people if you can help it.

"Probably three to five days. Most of the time if I see people I just assume they're gonna miss about five days of work," Huff said.

The close quarters of an office can be where the flu is easily spread, but many people feel like they can't call in sick. Dr. Huff said flu season is not the time to be a hero, stay home if you're sick. "If you think you have the flu, or the early stages of flu, you need to isolate yourself as much as you can," Huff said.

He said if you do have to go out, wear a face mask, to prevent spreading the flu to people around you. "Not everything is worthy of fear and isolation, but given the symptoms and the outbreak we're having right now, I think to air on the side of caution. You know cause you don't want to get everybody sick and you lose your workforce."

If you work in close contact with people be aware of spreading germs. "The first thing I would do would be to take the flu shot," Huff said. "The second thing I would do is try to decide do I really need to be in this crowd."

The best health advice he's heard is simple. "Two of the things you can do to prevent the spread of disease, keep your hands washed and don't go anywhere if you're sick," Huff said.

The Center for Disease Control recommends everyone six months and older get the flu vaccine. In this area, it is recommended that you get the quadrivalent vaccine, that protects against four strains of the flu, including the one in circulation in Alabama.