Shannon Enoch

Whether it’s overstocking on hand sanitizer or bundling in layers, we all have our methods of preventing the flu. From fall to spring, we see ads for flu shots and are told the age-old truth to wash our hands and to cough into our elbow. But in case you need to hear something new about the flu, Terri Coffee, D.N.P, R.N., assistant professor of nursing at Hiram College, shares five things you may not have known about influenza.

1.It is everywhere. Unless you have a microscope attached to a pair of specs, you more than likely cannot see the germs around you. But that’s OK, because in our modern-day world we have the means to combat our invisible enemies.

“Wash your hands frequently,” advises Dr. Coffee. “If someone is sick, what I do is tell people to get some sort of disinfectant and wipe off anything that anyone touches a lot in the house—you know, door knobs, remote controls, the handle to the refrigerator, that kind of thing.”

Even if you or a member of your household isn’t suffering from the flu, take heed of Dr. Coffee’s recommendations. You never know what microscopic enemies you may bring home with you.

2.Realize your vulnerabilities. Dr. Coffee reminds us to keep in mind that we aren’t superheroes, after all. “Don’t go around anyone who is sick,” she says. “It seems like very common sense, but sometimes it’s unavoidable, particularly in health care. You know you have to go to work in the hospital and it’s full of sick people.” No matter where you find your career, remember you are only human, and sickness is an invisible weakness. Caution is a timeless tip that may one day save your Friday night.

3.The older you are, the more serious to take the flu. We all know someone who believes his/her body has become immune to the cruelest diseases throughout life. After you live through so much, you may believe you’re unstoppable—but Dr. Coffee debunks this myth. The very old and the very young should definitely get flu shots. Specifically, toddler to school-aged children, and individuals over 65—in fact, they get a higher doses,” she says.

4. The flu is nothing to joke about. A number of recent deaths around the country correlate with the flu. Before you begin to panic or fear the end of the world, Dr. Coffee explains, “Seemingly healthy people are dying from the flu. I believe it’s because they either have something else going on, maybe a history of asthma or something that weakens them in some way that may not be evident to their friends or family. Or they’ve developed a co-infection. The flu is viral, so maybe they contracted a bacterial infection. The body can become doubly compromised and sometimes that’s hard to deal with.”

5.How do you know if you have more than just the common flu?  How do you know if your cough has turned from simple ‘under the weather’ blues into something more extreme? Dr. Coffee says there are two signs to look out for as you battle your internal enemy. “Usually, the first two to three days are the worst. People say it feels like getting hit by a truck. The body aches and they have to hold up their head — it feels so heavy – and general crudeness. The symptoms that are alarming are a high fever and uncontrollable vomiting. Seek medical attention quickly,” Dr. Coffee urges. Even if you feel like you can get over these symptoms, remember it’s better to be safe than sorry, she says.

No matter how high the temperature rises, and however much snow melts away, keep your tissues on hand and sanitizer at the ready. Flu season began in October and it’s still in full swing. Remember to clean frequently touched surfaces and wash your hands. After all, who knows what germs could be on you?