It’s Not Too Late to Get the Flu Vaccine

It’s Not Too Late to Get the Flu Vaccine

Protect your family and yourself against the flu with the flu vaccine and diligent personal hygiene. Photo credit: Melanie Taylor, UF/IFAS Extension.

The 2022 flu season is running at full speed and many of us will be spending more time inside due to colder temperatures, traveling, and gathering throughout the holiday season, which means we have a much better chance of coming in contact with people who may have the flu.

The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and lungs. Flu viruses cause illness, hospital stays, and deaths in the U.S. each year. The flu can vary from mild to severe, so be sure to protect you and your family appropriately. Along with being vaccinated, other ways to avoid the flu include staying away from people who are sick, covering your coughs and sneezes by coughing and sneezing into your elbows, not your hands, washing your hands often with soap and water, and not touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.

Be Aware of Flu Symptoms:

  • Fever or feeling feverish/chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headaches
  • Tiredness
  • Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.
  • It’s important to note that not everyone with flu will have a fever.

Let’s Talk Facts About the Flu Vaccine:

  • It can keep you from getting sick with flu.
  • It can reduce the severity of illness in people who get vaccinated but still get sick.
  • It can reduce the risk of flu-related hospitalization.
  • It is an important preventive tool for people with certain chronic health conditions.
  • During pregnancy, the flu vaccine can help protect pregnant women from the flu during and after pregnancy and helps protect their infants from flu in their first few months of life.
  • It can be lifesaving to children.
  • Getting yourself vaccinated may also protect people around you, including those who are more vulnerable to serious flu illness, like babies and young children, senior adults, and persons with certain chronic health conditions.
  • It’s important to note it takes two weeks for the vaccine to become fully effective.

Only about 50% of Americans get an annual flu shot. There are so many more people that could prevent hospitalizations, severe flu illness, and even flu deaths if they would get vaccinated. The science is strong and the flu vaccine has been available to the public since 1945 after the U.S. government researched its safety and efficacy on the U.S. military. The flu vaccine is highly recommended by doctors for children, adults, and senior adults. If you have a chronic health condition, it is even more important for you to get your flu vaccine and protect yourself and your family from flu exposure. Let’s all consider getting the flu vaccine in 2022 and 2023 to prevent severe illness, save lives, and to have a happy, healthy New Year.

Reference: www.cdc.gov

It’s Not Too Late to Get the Flu Vaccine

Stay Covid-19 Safe and Prepared: My Personal Experience

Until July 2, 2021, I felt confident I had done everything possible to stay safe and avoid contracting Covid-19. Throughout 2020 and well into 2021, I worked from home, socialized very little, quarantined when necessary, wore my mask, and constantly washed my hands. In fact, I may have dry skin on my hands for the rest of my life, but I still wash my hands frequently. The Covid-19 virus has become a controversial issue over the past two years, but my story is from real experience.

Keeping your fever under control is a necessity when battling Covid-19. Photo credit: Melanie Taylor

As I prepared to have a safe, but fun, Fourth of July weekend with a few vaccinated friends, I was winding down my Friday at work and started to feel achy. I headed home, excited for a 3-day weekend, but I still felt like I was dragging. My husband and I had plans to meet up with friends at a restaurant with outdoor seating, but before I left the house, I decided to take my temperature, just to be cautious. To our surprise, I had a fever of 99.9. We canceled our dinner plans and I took some acetaminophen, went to bed early, and we prayed it was not Covid-19. It was kind of an unspoken prayer because neither of us wanted to admit we were a little nervous about my symptoms. As the weekend carried on, I felt sicker as the hours and days went by and barely left the sofa or bed. On Sunday morning, I woke up with a bad dry, hard cough so my husband called my doctor. To be totally transparent, I am immunocompromised, so we both knew there was a chance I could have a breakthrough case even though I was vaccinated. Based on my symptoms, my doctor recommended I go to the emergency room and be evaluated since it was a 3-day weekend. I followed his directions, had a chest x-ray, which, thankfully, was clear, but I tested positive for Covid-19.

Let me honestly say, this was the sickest I had ever felt in my memories. For about twelve straight days, I laid on the sofa, took my temperature and oxygen levels, had no sense of taste or smell, ate food with no taste to keep up my strength, hydrated, and slept. The body aches, fever, dry cough, and fatigue were debilitating. I had every Covid-19 symptom listed by the CDC except for a headache. I thought to myself many times how bad and scary this could have been if I had not been vaccinated. My doctor clearly expressed his opinion that if I had been unvaccinated, I would have been hospitalized, no questions asked. Unlike many people, it was not recommended for me to take a regimen of pills or vitamins, so I fought it with acetaminophen, lots of hydration, healthy foods, and tons of rest. When I finally woke up on July 14th and could smell the coffee brewing, I knew the end was finally in sight. It still took two more weeks to feel and return to normal, and I knew firsthand this virus is no joke.

Like many of you, I know people that have tested positive and showed no symptoms, some that felt very sick but were able to stay home and recover, and some that never made it home from the hospital. I work in the field of science as a UF/IFAS Extension Agent and feel very strongly that we can all make simple efforts to reduce exposure to ourselves and others. The most important step is to pay attention to the symptoms and stay home if we suspect illness or exposure. Even though I was looking forward to the holiday festivities, I made a conscious decision to stay home on July 2nd just in case I really was positive with Covid-19. I wanted to keep my friends and family safe just in case there was a remote chance I was contagious. I feel very grateful I did not expose them to this virus.

Checking your oxygen levels while sick with Covid-19 is a must. Photo credit: Melanie Taylor

The positive cases in Florida are lower right now, and that is fantastic. I am very excited about it too, but I also know we still shouldn’t put our guard down. Please stay aware. Be aware if you or a family member(s) have been exposed or do not feel well, and check for symptoms. I highly recommend every American household have a reliable thermometer, a pulse oximeter (safe oxygen levels should not go lower than 92), fluids for hydration, and foods of different textures because eating food without being able to taste and smell is very difficult. Different food temperatures, spice levels, and textures made eating to keep up my strength easier for me to handle.

The past two years have been stressful, emotional, and very exhausting. We still cannot forget to stay aware and diligent in our everyday lives to keep our families, friends, and communities healthy. Please revisit these CDC websites as needed and always consult your doctor when you have questions and concerns. Stay aware and healthy out there!

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/your-health/index.html\

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/symptoms-testing/symptoms.html

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/index.html

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/testing/index.html

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/if-you-are-sick/index.html

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/people-with-medical-conditions.html

 

DIG IN for your Mental Health

DIG IN for your Mental Health

House plant

Some house plants are very easy to keep alive, even if you are a first-time gardener. Photo source: Melanie Taylor

As July begins, one mental health topic we repeatedly hear or read about is how stress is negatively affecting so many Americans right now. In these unprecedented times, many people are reaching out for guidance from their doctors, therapists, friends, and family. Depending on how your stress levels are affecting you, there are numerous suggestions ranging from exercise to therapy to medication and the list goes on. There may be one solution right at your fingertips that can help you begin to find a little peace of mind starting today. Gardening…. Let’s DIG IN!

Gardening does not have to be growing a large vegetable garden in the backyard. It can be planting flowers and plants in your landscape, maintaining potted plants on your front porch and deck, or growing houseplants inside your home. One easy way to start if you have never been a gardener is by growing herbs inside or out. Many people find gardening helps them escape to a place of peace as they dig in the soil and watch their plants and flowers grow and prosper.

This idea is not new. Horticulture is the art and science of growing plants. Horticultural therapy is the practice of engaging people in plant or gardening activities to improve their bodies, minds, and spirits. Research confirms that healthful benefits accrue when people connect with nature and plants by viewing and/or interacting with them.

Gardening with Friends

Enjoy socializing with friends and neighbors in the garden. Photo source: Julie McConnell

 

Horticultural therapy has been around for a very long time. In the 1600’s, the poor often worked in gardens to pay for their medical care. Physicians quickly noticed these patients recovered faster and had better overall health than patients who did not work in the garden. Today, many hospitals, long-term care facilities, rehabilitation centers, prisons, schools, social-service facilities, and community centers use people-plant interactions as a form of treatment for persons with physical or mental disabilities. Horticultural therapy may include meeting with a therapist specializing in this area or trying something on your own or with family, friends, or a local gardening group.

 

 

Family garden time

Saturday mornings are family time at the local community garden plot. Photo source: Julie McConnell

Some benefits you may receive from gardening include:

  • Physical: Provides exercise at various levels. (Easy, medium, and strenuous levels – it all depends on what you decide to create.)
  • Emotional: Promotes and satisfies your creative side, increases your feelings of confidence and self-esteem, promotes a new interest and enthusiasm for it, and even relieves tension.
  • Physiological: May help lower blood pressure and heart rate, decrease cortisol levels, and ultimately relieve stress.

Even if you think you do not have a “green thumb,” you should try gardening on any level and see if it will be a healthy mode of stress release for you. Happy Gardening!

Source:

UF/IFAS Extension EDIS Document ENH970: Horticultural Therapy, Elizabeth Diehl and Sydney Park Brown.

Your Pets Can Help Improve Your Health

Your Pets Can Help Improve Your Health

Did you know that over the past ten years, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has been a partner in research to determine the physical and mental benefits of having a pet? It turns out that pets not only steal our hearts, but they can contribute to better cardiovascular health. Studies have shown that the bond between people and their pets can increase fitness, lower stress and bring happiness to their owners. Regular walking or playing with pets can decrease blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels. Pets can also help manage loneliness and depression by giving us companionship. This was helpful to many people suffering from loneliness during the pandemic. In fact, between March and July of 2020, there was a surge in pet adoptions and some shelters could not meet the demand. Since people had more free time, less socializing, and lots of alone time, many people found a pet was just what they needed to fill that void.

Black and Tan cat with green eyes

Cali, a tortoiseshell cat, posing to get attention.
Photo Source: Melanie Taylor

Although many of us are slowly returning to the normal stresses of daily life, a pet can still give us those same health benefits. Just think about it: on those stressful days with busy work schedules, running kids around town to their activities, etc., what’s better than being greeted at your door in the evening by a dog with a wagging tail or a cat’s purr as they snuggle with you? Of course, do not forget those unique pets, such as birds, bunnies, hedgehogs, reptiles, fish, and lots of other furry and scaly friends of ours.They all greet you in their own special way.

On a safety note, always remember pets can carry harmful germs that can make us sick even when the pet appears healthy. People with compromised immune systems and pregnant women should always take extra precautions when interacting with pets. Some tips on staying safe and healthy around your pets are to always wash your hands after handling your pets and be sure to maintain your pet’s health by regular visits to the veterinarian. Also, practice good pet hygiene by keeping pets out of the kitchen, cleaning their toys, beds, food, water/food bowls, etc., regularly sanitizing areas the pets frequent, and, of course, cleaning a cat’s litter box daily and picking up dog poop outside and disposing of it properly. When pets are added to your family, always teach your children how to properly interact with the animal(s). Small children should always be supervised when interacting with any pets.

Orange cat with toy

Sonny, a tabby cat, enjoying play time with his mouse toy.
Photo Source: Melanie Taylor

On a fun note, if you are a pet owner, you already celebrate your pet(s) everyday, but there is an annual day of celebration for our pets. National Pet Day is April 11, 2021. This is an extra special day to give your pet extra snuggles and maybe even an extra treat. Be sure to use this day to remember why your pet is so special to you and your family. Reminisce about your pet memories while giving him/her extra attention and maybe even share your special memories on social media. People love seeing pictures of pets. It makes everyone’s day brighter. Here are the top four ways people report making National Pet Day special for their pet, 1) I give my pet a special treat, 2) I tell my pet “I love you”, 3) I buy or make a special gift for my pet, and 4) I let my pet sleep in my bed with me. (https://nationaltoday.com/national-pet-day/)

So, be sure to remember your pet this National Pet Day in April.

To see the importance of pets in our lives and families be sure to check out the interesting insights below from surveys about people and their pets.

Interesting Insights about People and their Pets:

  • 95% of pet owners say their pets are part of the family.
  • 94% of families with an autistic child benefited from having a pet.
  • 67% of households in the United States have a pet. Americans spend approximately $75 billion a year on pet care and products.
  • 44% of people reported they would rather cuddle with their pet than their partner.
  • 22% of Americans are attracted to people who treat their pet like a family member.
  • 11% of Americans hang out with their pets (ex. watch TV, read books, etc.).
  • 10% of owners are allergic to their pets.
  • 10% of Americans consider their pet to be their best friend.
  • 10% of Americans talk to their pet in a special voice.
  • 10% of Americans carry on conversations with their pet.

As April approaches and spring weather arrives, be sure to get outside with your pets and enjoy some stress relief, feel the sunshine on your face, smell the fresh blooms, and take in the beauty of nature around you. It will provide positive health benefits for you and your pet as you take a long, relaxing walk together. If your pet is an indoor only pet, be sure to sit in the floor and play with your pet like you did when they were kittens, etc. They will love the extra time and closeness with you. No matter what type of pet you have, be sure to let them bring you happiness and relaxation, and you, in turn, can help them live their best pet lives possible.

Sources:

Center for Disease and Prevention (CDC):

https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/health-benefits/index.html

National Today:

https://nationaltoday.com/national-pet-day/

The Washington Post:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/08/12/adoptions-dogs-coronavirus/

 

 

Meet Your FCS Agent – Melanie Taylor

Meet Your FCS Agent – Melanie Taylor

Melanie Taylor

Melanie Taylor, Family & Consumer Sciences, Extension Agent III, Bay County

Melanie Taylor grew up in Virginia. After getting married in January 2009 and wanting to support her husband’s career in Panama City, she officially moved to Bay County. Melanie received her bachelor’s degree from Radford University. She then furthered her education with a M.S.Ed from Virginia Tech in 2004 while working full time for Virginia Cooperative Extension. She followed in her Dad’s footsteps by becoming a 4-H youth development Extension agent and worked with Virginia Extension for over eight years. Upon moving to Bay County, she worked in Gulf County as the 4-H and Family & Consumer Sciences Extension Agent for 10 years. She transferred to UF/IFAS Extension Bay County in December 2019. Her FCS focus areas are health and wellness, prevention of chronic diseases, and strengthening families within our communities.

Melanie at the 4-H booth at the Sunbelt Expo

Melanie is very excited to now work within the community in which she lives and to assist with helping Bay County residents recover from Hurricane Michael and Covid-19 damages. Be sure to contact Melanie if you have any needs in the area of family and consumer sciences. She is ready and willing to answer questions and design programs virtually for now and face-to-face in the future.

Like so many in Bay County, Melanie’s home in the Cove was severely damaged by Hurricane Michael, but she is excited to announce they finally moved back into their repaired home on September 26. She and her family could not be happier (her family includes husband Bryan and their two cats, Sonny and Cali). Outside of work, Melanie is active in the Junior League of Panama City. It is very likely you will see her out and about with her husband at local events.

Melanie Taylor, Family & Consumer Sciences, Bay County