By Theresa Woodard, internal medicine practitioner at Harbor of Health

Dr. Theresa Woodard says the best way to prevent the flu is to get vaccinated.

When germs are seemingly all around you – from taking care of sick kids at home to cringing at the coughs coming from the next cubicle at the office – how can you possibly stay healthy?

Several cases of flu have already been reported in Tennessee, which means people are getting sick earlier than they did during last year’s tough flu season. Millions of people typically get the flu each year, with hundreds of thousands ending up hospitalized.

While that’s the bad news, there is good news too: It is possible to avoid getting sick, and the easiest, best first line of defense is to get your flu shot as soon as possible.

Medicare, most insurances and coverage under the federal healthcare act cover flu vaccination as part of preventive or wellness care. Even without insurance, you can pay cash for a shot – they’re available for as little as $20 at Costco and Sam’s, and you do not have to be a member.

Options include inactivated influenza vaccine (IIV), recombinant influenza vaccine (RIV) or live attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV). Doctors don’t prefer any one flu vaccine over another, and both trivalent (3-component) and quadrivalent (4-component) flu vaccines are available this year.

A licensed, age-appropriate flu vaccine is recommended for all patients – and a must for those who are at extra risk of getting sick.

Bottom line, please choose one – the protection it provides can prove to be invaluable. Indeed, experts at the Centers for Disease Control recommend that all eligible patients receive a licensed, age-appropriate flu vaccine.

Furthermore, there are certain people who need a flu shot due to decreased ability to fight off an infection as strong as the flu. They include infants and children between the age of 6 months and 4 years, seniors age 65 and over, women who are pregnant, asthma and COPD patients, diabetic patients, people with heart disease, HIV and AIDS patients and cancer patients.

While the flu shot goes a long way toward prevention, other tips for avoiding the flu include:

  • Keep an eye on the CDC website to see when the flu season peaks in Tennessee so you can be extra cautious.
  • Be diligent about handwashing. Wash with soap and warm water for a full 20-30 seconds, including under your fingernails, the backs of your hands and between fingers.
  • Keep hand sanitizer nearby, and use it and offer it to others frequently.
  • Regularly disinfect things people touch a lot: doorknobs, your phone and keys, shopping cart handles, etc.
  • Take your shoes off when you get inside so they don’t track in germs from outside.
  • Try to avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth as much as possible.
  • Take care of yourself by getting plenty of sleep, eating a healthy diet, drinking plenty of water and exercising.

Remember, the flu is a potentially serious disease that can lead to hospitalization, pneumonia and sometimes even death. There’s still time to stave it off with a flu shot; and remember, if you do fall victim to the flu, your doctor can help ease your symptoms and hasten your recovery.

Whether you need your flu shot, treatment for the flu or a checkup and advice to give you the best shot at good health this winter, come see me at Harbor of Health, located at 718 Harbor Bend Road in Memphis. Walk-ins are welcome, and you can make an appointment on ZocDoc or by calling 901-515-4200.