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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

Flu Season: Protect your Health

By Tom Robinson

Each summer, Old Dominion University's Center for Global Health teaches local fourth- and fifth-graders how their well-being impacts everyone around them.

At the start of the traditional fall-winter flu season, when more time indoors increases our vulnerability and reduces our immunity, lessons from the Center's Global Health Heroes summer youth program are especially timely.

"You are a hero if you protect your health,'' says Muge Akpinar-Elci, chair of ODU's School of Community and Environmental Health and director of the Center for Global Health. "When you protect yourself, you are really protecting your family, friends and the whole community."

One person with influenza, a contagious and potentially fatal virus spread through the air, can shut down schools, offices and businesses. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as much as 20 percent of the U.S. population contracts influenza each year, costing more than $10 billion in direct medical expenses.

The CDC estimates an economic impact of $16 billion in lost earnings and productivity due to flu, not including the intangible costs of personal suffering.

"If you have the flu, it's not just your problem," Akpinar-Elci says.

So don't get the flu, right? It isn't that simple, but Akpinar-Elci says there are things people can do to reduce their chances of getting sick, starting with an annual vaccination.

The CDC recommends flu shots for anyone over 6 months old. Young children, the elderly and those with chronic diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are most at risk.

The vaccine doesn't guarantee you won't get the flu, Akpinar-Elci says, but it can lessen its effects. If you do get the flu, she says, remove yourself from circulation immediately.

"You really need to stay home," Akpinar-Elci says. That can be hard for parents with sick children, she concedes. "But one sick student can infect an entire class."

Frequent hand-washing and cleaning of common household surfaces such as countertops can also help you avoid the flu, she says. And beware: if you come into contact with someone with the flu, touching your eyes or nose will likely transmit the virus to yourself.

Remember, strive to be a health hero, Akpinar-Elci says. "It is our responsibility to be healthy."