Simple actions can reduce your flu risk

Vaccinations, hand washing can make a big difference

flu flotsamSince most of us have some immunity to the seasonal or “common” flu, following healthy habits – and getting a timely flu shot – can help avoid it and its attendant fevers, headaches, coughs, sore throats and body aches.

Seasonal flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by viruses. It’s not to be confused with pandemic influenza or avian influenza (bird flu). Pandemic flu is a global outbreak, or “pandemic,” of a virulent flu to which people have little natural immunity.

The U.S. was part of a pandemic in 1918-1919. The avian flu is caused by viruses in wild birds, and has the potential to be transmitted to humans and become pandemic. You can find out more about pandemic flu by going to

Dr. Sanyukta Pawar"Vaccination and simple things like regular hand-washing can go a long way toward reducing your risk of catching seasonal flu."
— Sanyukta Pawar, UC Davis Medical Group— Rocklin, primary care physician

Interestingly, the recommendations for preventing seasonal flu are the same ones that would be used to contain pandemic influenza.

“Vaccination and simple things like regular hand-washing can go a long way toward reducing your risk of catching seasonal flu,” said Sanyukta Pawar, a UC Davis primary care physician based at the new Placer Center for Health in Rocklin. “It takes a bit of awareness and attention, but not much.”

These steps are easy to follow and can make all the difference in avoiding the common flu and staying healthy now and throughout the year:

  • Get a flu vaccination. According to the CDC, this is the single best way to prevent the flu. It’s best to get or plan your vaccination as soon as vaccines become available, at the start of fall. If you can’t, vaccination in December or January is still beneficial because flu season often peaks after the New Year.
  • Annual vaccination is especially important for people at high risk of having serious flu-related complications, CDC officials say, or people who live with or care for high-risk individuals.
  • Wash your hands. Use soap and water often, especially after coughing or sneezing. Carry alcohol-based hand cleaners in your car, backpack or purse when soap and water are not available.
  • Keep your distance. Avoid close contact with people who are sick. If you're ill, stay home. You can help prevent others from getting sick.
  • Cover your cough. Use a tissue when coughing or sneezing. It can prevent the spread of germs. If you don't have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your arm above your hand.
  • Don't contaminate. Try not to touch your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs are often spread this way, which is why hand washing is so important.
  • Maintain good health. Get plenty of sleep. Drink lots of water and eat nutritious foods. Get regular exercise. Manage stress. Being healthy helps fight the flu.

child receving flu vaccineFor the 2008-2009 flu season, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics have expanded the recommendation for flu vaccination to include all children ages six months to 18 years. Kids are more likely to contract the flu than adults, according to the organization.

For more information on UC Davis flu vaccination locations, visit

When to ask your doctor

The following people should consult their doctor before being vaccinated, according to the CDC:

  • People who have a severe allergy to chicken eggs.
  • People who have had a severe reaction to a flu vaccination.
  • People who developed Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) within 6 weeks of getting an influenza vaccine.
  • Children less than 6 months of age (influenza vaccine is not approved for this age group).
  • People who have a moderate-to-severe illness with a fever (they should wait until they recover to get vaccinated.)