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How to Stay Healthy this Holiday Season: Hand Hygiene & Flu Vaccine

Lee Health in the Community
Author name: Lee Health

It’s that time of year again: The holiday season is upon us. But this most wonderful time of the year also happens to coincide with cold and flu season.

Did You Know: Dec. 1 - 7 is National Handwashing Awareness Week, and that’s followed by National Influenza Vaccination Week from Dec. 6 - 12. Practicing good hand hygiene and getting your flu shot are easy ways to stay healthy, so here are some essential things you need to know.

Facts and Flu Shots

The CDC reports that seasonal influenza (or the flu) is associated with between 9 million to 45 million illnesses, 140,00-810,000 hospitalizations, and between 12,000-61,000 deaths annually since 2010.

According to the 2020 Lee County Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA), Lee County reported 5.9 deaths per 100,000 population due to pneumonia/influenza in Lee County in 2019 – that’s better than both state (9.5) and national (14.2) findings.

In fact, the 2020 Lee County CHNA also estimates that 77.3 percent of Lee County adults got the flu vaccine last year.

With that in mind, the simplest and best way to protect yourself and your loved ones from the flu and its potentially severe complications is to get a flu shot. The CDC and the Florida Department of Health recommend that EVERYONE 6 months of age and older get the vaccine each year to protect against illness.

Community members can get the flu vaccine in the traditional form – a shot or as a nasal spray. So there is no excuse for those of us who avoid the flu shot because of an aversion to needles. The nasal spray is a great alternative!

Popular Misconception

Another excuse people use to avoid the flu vaccine is the belief that it will make you sick. Lee Health infectious disease specialist Dr. Mary Beth Saunders addresses this misconception.

“Don’t let the fear of side effects or thinking you’ll get sick from the vaccine keep you from getting vaccinated,” Dr. Saunders says. “The flu vaccine DOES NOT – CANNOT — GIVE YOU THE FLU. Although the vaccine isn’t a 100 percent guarantee that you won’t get the flu, it’s still the safest and best way to protect yourself and others against influenza.”

Hand Hygiene Tips

In addition to vaccination, practicing good hand hygiene will protect yourself and others from the flu, COVID-19 and illness.

Many diseases and conditions are spread by not washing hands with soap and clean, running water. Just think about how many different things you have touched in the last few minutes: Your face (eyes, nose, mouth), phone, computer/tablet, drink or food, surfaces such as a desk or door, etc. It adds up quickly, so remember to wash your hands often!

Some key times to wash your hands so you can cut down on spreading germs:

  • When preparing or eating food
  • Caring for others
  • Using the restroom
  • If you’re out in public (store, school, work, doctors, etc.),
  • After touching your face (blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing). 

The CDC suggests that the most effective way to wash your hands is with soap and hot water or with a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol. Both hand-washing methods should take at least 20 seconds.

When using soap and water be sure to wet, lather, scrub, rinse and dry your hands. You can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap and water are not available. Sanitizers do not get rid of all types of germs, harmful chemicals and may not be as effective when hands are visibly dirty. When using hand sanitizer be sure to apply gel to palm of hands and rub the gel over your entire hand and fingers until your hands are dry.

There has been a shortage of hand sanitizer because of COVID-19. But Wicked Dolphin Rum Distillery in Cape Coral and Fort Myers Brewing Company teamed up to retool their distillery process to produce more. They distributed hand sanitizer to Lee Health and police and fire departments in southwest Florida when supplies were low in the beginning of the pandemic.  

We all can unknowingly spread germs and infect others the day before we develop and show flu symptoms and for a week after being sick, so be sure to take precautions. Be sure to get the flu vaccine and practice good hand hygiene so our community can have the healthiest and happiest of holidays.

The Department of Health in Lee County has flu vaccinations available for all ages. Click here to learn more.

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