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It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year…For a Flu Shot


National Influenza Vaccination Week is December 3-9

“For people at high risk, getting the flu can be far more serious than for other people,” says Dr. Matthew CiRullo, family medicine physician. “Flu is more likely to lead to hospitalization or death for people in the high-risk groups, and their first line of defense is vaccination.”

Every December healthcare providers celebrate National Influenza Vaccination Week to remind patients about preventing influenza, a serious disease that can lead to hospitalization and sometimes death. Every flu season is different, and influenza infection can affect people differently, but millions of people get the flu every year, hundreds of thousands of people are hospitalized, and, unfortunately, thousands die from flu-related causes every year. Even healthy people can get very sick from the flu and spread it to others—making vaccinations crucial this time of year.

How it Works

Flu vaccines cause antibodies to develop in the body about two weeks after vaccination. These antibodies provide protection against infection with the viruses that are in the vaccine. Vaccination is needed every season because the body’s immune response from vaccination declines over time, and because flu viruses are constantly changing, which necessitates annual updates of the formulation of the flu vaccine. For the best protection, everyone aged 6 months and older should be vaccinated annually.

There’s still a slight possibility you could get the flu even if you are vaccinated. The ability of flu vaccine to protect a person depends on various factors, including the age and health status of the person being vaccinated, and the similarity or “match” between the viruses used to make the vaccine and those circulating in the community—if they are closely matched, vaccine effectiveness is higher. If they are not closely matched, vaccine effectiveness can be reduced. However, even when the viruses are not closely matched, the vaccine can still protect many people and prevent or greatly lessen flu related complications.

The viruses in the flu shot are killed (inactivated), so you cannot get the flu from a flu shot. Some minor side effects that may occur are: Soreness, redness, or swelling where the shot was given, a low-grade fever and body aches.

Who’s at Risk?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most who get the flu will have mild illness, will not need medical care or antiviral drugs, and will recover in less than two weeks. Some, however, are more likely to experience complications that can result in hospitalization and sometimes death. Pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus infections, and ear infections are examples of flu-related complications. The flu also can make chronic health problems worse. For example, those with asthma may experience asthma attacks while they have the flu, and people with chronic congestive heart failure may experience a worsening of this condition.

Those at high risk for developing flu-related complications include:

  • Children younger than 5, but especially children younger than 2 years old;
  • Adults 65 years of age and older;
  • Pregnant women (and women up to two weeks postpartum); and
  • Residents and staff of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

Some with certain medical conditions are more at risk as well. Those conditions include:

  • Asthma;
  • Chronic lung disease (COPD and cystic fibrosis);
  • Heart disease (congenital heart disease, congestive heart failure, and coronary artery disease);
  • Blood disorders (sickle cell disease);
  • Endocrine disorders (diabetes);
  • Kidney disorders;
  • Liver disorders;
  • Metabolic disorders (inherited metabolic disorders and mitochondrial disorders);
  • Weakened immune system due to disease or medication (those with HIV or AIDS, cancer, or those on chronic steroids);
  • People younger than 19 years of age receiving long-term aspirin therapy; and
  • Neurological and neurodevelopmental conditions [including disorders of the brain, spinal cord, peripheral nerve, and muscle such as cerebral palsy, epilepsy (seizure disorders), stroke, intellectual disability (mental retardation), moderate to severe developmental delay, muscular dystrophy, or spinal cord injury].

Do You Have a Cold or Flu?

The flu and the common cold are both respiratory illnesses, but are caused by different viruses. Because these two illnesses have similar symptoms, it can be difficult to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone, the CDC warns.

In general, the flu is worse than the common cold, and symptoms are more common and intense. People with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose. Colds generally do not result in serious health problems, such as pneumonia, bacterial infections, or hospitalizations. Flu can have very serious associated complications.

Because colds and flu share many symptoms, it can be difficult (or even impossible) to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone. Special tests can be performed by your healthcare provider to determine whether or not you have the flu.

The symptoms of flu can include fever or feeling feverish/chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, and fatigue (tiredness). If you are in a high-risk group and develop flu symptoms, it’s best for you to contact your doctor early in your illness to remind him about your high-risk status for flu.

Preventative Measures to Follow

The influenza vaccine isn’t 100 percent effective, so it’s important to take steps such as these to reduce the spread of infection:

  • Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
  • While sick, limit your contact with others as much as possible to keep from spreading the infection.
  • If you’re sick with flu-like illness, the CDC recommends 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.)
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
  • 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.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs like the flu.

If you haven’t done so already, make arrangements to get your annual flu shot. Call your doctor to schedule a time to swing by—it only takes a moment! Once vaccinated, you’ll be able to enjoy this holiday season knowing you have taken the single best step to protect yourself and your loved ones against the flu.

For more information about the influenza vaccination, visit www.cchchealthcare.com or contact one of Coastal Carolina Health Care’s family practices: CCHC New Bern Family Practice, at (252) 633-1678, or CCHC Twin Rivers Family Practice, at (252) 636-2664.

 

(Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Mayo Clinic; Lake Cumberland District Health Department; and Lake Norman Regional Medical Center.)