According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this year’s flu season is the most severe season in recent years, with widespread flu activity in 48 states. Influenza viruses are likely to keep circulating for another 10-12 weeks, thereby presenting us with an imperative duty: we must ensure vigilance in preventing the spread of influenza.

One of the achievements of which I’m most proud is that HCA was a pioneer in advocating voluntary influenza vaccination for workers. Persons affiliated with our organization who decline to be vaccinated must either wear masks or work in areas without direct patient contact during flu season. Our experienced viewpoint on this matter is: while no vaccine can provide a 100 percent guarantee that you will not catch the flu, it may save you from dying of it.

Are you one of those people who somehow avoided getting a flu shot? It’s not too late! The vaccine develops effectiveness within two weeks and becomes more effective after that.  While there is not yet a definitive statistic regarding the effectiveness of this year’s vaccine, getting vaccinated can lessen your risk of contracting the flu or reduce the severity of illness if you do. This is especially true for children less than five, for adults over 65, and individuals with chronic illness.  For these people, the vaccine – and a less severe illness – can mean survival!

If you think you might have the flu, get tested and find out. It’s important to ask for medical assistance if needed. This begins with a call or visit to your physician, an urgent care center, or, if you experience any respiratory distress, or are at high risk of developing flu-related complications, a visit to the emergency department. The HCA website can direct you to resources by typing your zip code in the blue box at the very bottom of our homepage. Local HCA facility websites include a “find a doctor” option.

In addition to getting your flu shot, don’t fail to practice these preventive actions:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. Germs spread this way.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it. If you don’t have a tissue available, it is best to cough into your elbow to prevent flu-virus particles from spreading.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs like the flu.
  • Practice “social distancing,” which means avoiding large public gatherings and not going to work or to school when sick.
  • While traveling on planes, protect yourself from the flu by wearing a mask, especially if you have a weakened immune system or you are 65 years old or older.
  • Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
  • If you are sick with flu-like illness, CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. (Your fever should be gone for 24 hours without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.)
  • While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them. It’s a good idea to wear a mask around other people, which will help protect them from respiratory droplets.

The flu remains the number one cause of vaccine-preventable death in the United States. Here at HCA, we understand it’s a privilege to care for our patients, and we want to set the example for others in the industry to follow.  The question is not “why should we be vaccinated,” but “why isn’t everyone”?