“Frequent hand washing is probably the best thing out there to prevent any infectious disease,” said Dr. William Bell, a physician at Med-Serve in Tupelo.
If people can’t get to hot water and soap, hand sanitizers are a good substitute.
“It certainly doesn’t hurt,” Bell said.
Bell recommends people get plenty of rest, eat healthfully, avoid stressful situations and exercise to boost their immune systems.
“Basically, (it’s) taking care of yourself,” Bell said.
But even hand washing and healthy habits may not be enough to keep the flu bug from biting.
“The best way (to prevent the flu) is a flu shot and obviously that’s going to be a problem this year,” Bell said.
Because of delays in the production of flu vaccines, the shots likely will not be available in Tupelo until November, health officials say. If supplies are short, they might be available only to people in high-risk groups.
“Short of isolating yourself,” it’s hard to avoid the influenza during a bad flu season, like Northeast Mississippi had last year, Bell said.
The good news is that doctors have some new drugs that have been very effective in treating influenza.
Relenza, which is inhaled like a nasal spray, and Tamiflu, which comes in pill form, can shorten the duration of the flu and make the symptoms less severe.
Doctors began prescribing the new drugs last year, Bell said.
“For a lot of people it made a huge difference,” Bell said.
With the new drugs, it’s important not to wait to see if flu symptoms, like fever and chills, go away.
“You have to start in the first 48 hours,” Bell said. “The sooner you start, the better.”
Although the flu has become a common term often applied to an assortment of viral illnesses, influenza strains A and B should not be taken lightly.
Each year, influenza puts about 110,000 people in the hospital and kills about 20,000 people.
“It’s a serious thing,” Bell said.