Influenza is always around, but the typical “flu season” in the US extends from October to May. It takes about two weeks for your body to generate antibodies against the flu following an immunization, so now is the time to immunize yourself and your family. Vaccines are available at many convenient locations, even in pharmacies, so there are no long lines.
We may have forgotten the scare and severity of the H1N1 (swine) flu illness in the past, but recent illnesses and a death from swine flu contracted by people attending fairs and touching pigs has brought the disease back into focus. Treatment may not be effective, so it is best to avoid the disease altogether. You can do that by arming yourself against the H1N1 viral illness and other seasonal flu types by an immunization which covers a variety of influenza strains.
An annual immunization is recommended because flu viruses change. The vaccine is re-formulated based on the observed changes. Just because you had the “flu” once, doesn’t mean you are immune. Natural immune responses decline over time. The inclusion of a viral strain in the vaccine is based on research and anticipated spread of illness type. This year the vaccine protects against three different flu types: influenza A (H3N2 virus, influenza A (H1N1) and influenza B viruses.
You have a number of immunization options:
“Flu shot”-an inactivated vaccine containing a killed virus is given with a needle and is for healthy adults, children older than 6 months and for people with chronic medical conditions
- Regular: 6 months and older
- HD (high dose): for people age 65 and older
- Intradermal: for ages 18-64
Nasal-Spray: Made from weakened viruses which do not cause the flu. Approved for healthy people ages 2-49 that are not pregnant.
At the website listed below there are immunization guidelines. People who have severe egg allergies and anyone who has had a severe reaction to the vaccine in the past should not be re-immunized. Others who are ill and feverish, and those who have had a paralytic illness called GBS (Guillain-Barré Syndrome) should discuss the situation with a physician. Children younger than 6 months of age are not approved for flu immunization.
General immunization recommendations include: People with lung conditions such as asthma and COPD; Diabetics and people 65 years and older; Pregnant women; Those associated with the above examples including caregivers and household contacts.
If you develop influenza, what are the symptoms?
- Sudden onset of a high fever
- Headache, cough, sore throat, runny nose, aches and tiredness
- Diarrhea and vomiting can occur but are less common and more often in children
What to do: Although the above symptoms might be flu, other illnesses have similar symptoms. If you are concerned, especially if you have asthma, diabetes, chronic lung disease or have been diagnosed with congestive heart failure, you should discuss your symptoms with your doctor. There are some medications that help, in fact, some specifically treat viral infections. These antiviral drugs may make you feel better faster and help prevent complications, but must be started within two days to have benefit.
There are actions to decrease your risk of infection, such as:
- Avoid people who are coughing or other flu symptoms
- Be sure to wash your hands
- Don’t shake hands with people
- Use alcohol based wipes or sanitizer solutions frequently
It takes about two weeks for your body to produce antibody protection after you receive the vaccine. The best protection is to GET YOUR IMMUNIZATION NOW!
You have two options:
- The shot—when this vaccine containing a killed virus is injected, your body begins building antibodies against the illness. Generally healthy people, those with chronic disease and children over 6 months of age are approved for this method
- The nasal spray—this vaccine is made from live but weakened viruses that do not cause the flu. The body senses it’s presence on the nasal mucus membrane and mounts an antibody response. This is approved for healthy people between the ages of 2-49. It is not used in pregnant women.
NOTE: You cannot get influenza from the vaccine. But vaccine effectiveness varies and flu viruses are constantly changing.
Possible Side effects: Soreness, redness and swelling at the site of the injection, low grade fever and aches, runny nose, wheezing, headache, vomiting, muscle aches, fever, sore throat, cough.
For more information: www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/keyfacts.htm and Influenza Vaccine Safety at the same site.
For questions related to your personal health issues, consult your physician.
Betty Kuffel, MD