HEALTH: Get your flu shot
Flu season is at our doorsteps and already taking a toll with many communities reporting roughly double the amount of hospitalizations compared to the same time period as last year. And while the timing varies in different parts of the country, most flu activity — influenza-like illness, hospitalizations and, sadly, even deaths – occurs between now through May.
Flu shots are the most effective way to prevent influenza and its complications. And, this year, health officials are turning-up the volume in advising early flu vaccinations as we brace for what is being anticipated as one of the biggest flu seasons on record. Additionally, there are several important steps we can take to help prevent contracting and spreading the virus.
Dr. Nina’s What You Need To Know: About Influenza – The Seasonal Flu
What is the seasonal flu?
A highly contagious and serious illness caused by influenza viruses. The flu attacks the respiratory system, causing a runny nose, cough, and sore throat—similar to the common cold. Additionally, it can wreak havoc over the entire body with headaches, muscle or body aches, fever of 100oF or higher, chills, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea (more common in children).
And, it doesn’t stop there, it can lead to a number of complications, particularly in children aged 6 months to 5 years, pregnant women, adults older than 65 years of age, people with weak immune systems, and those with chronic health conditions (e.g., heart disease, lung disease, diabetes).
What complications can result from the flu? They range from moderate to serious and include:
• Ear and sinus infections
• Bronchitis, pneumonia
• Inflammation of the heart (myocarditis), muscle and brain (encephalitis)
• Multi-organ failure of the kidneys (that may require hemodialysis) or respiratory system (that may require placement of a breathing tube and being hooked up to a breathing machine)
• Sepsis (the body’s life-threatening response to infection)
In addition, those with chronic health conditions may experience serious worsening of their disease that requires hospitalization and, in some cases, can result in death. Examples include:
• A person with heart disease can have an increased work load on their heart (increased heart rate from fever or dehydration) resulting in chest pain and even a heart attack
• Diabetics generally have a more difficult time fighting infections and the added stress can result in dangerously elevated blood sugar levels. Those with insulin dependent diabetes may even enter into a diabetic coma.
• People with lung illnesses such as asthma, chronic bronchitis, or emphysema can experience wheezing, shortness or breath, and decreases in their oxygen levels
Widespread Impact: In the United States, despite having greater access to vaccinations and superior living conditions to many countries, we still see millions of illnesses, hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations, and, on average, 24,000 deaths a year (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
Many forget that this is a major killer—and have the notion that the flu shot really is not necessary. And despite the fact that the flu is particularly dangerous in young children and those over the age of 65 years, only about seventy-five percent of babies and toddlers were vaccinated and only about sixty-six percent of older adults were vaccinated last flu season.
Best Method of Prevention and Protection Against Influenza – The Flu Shot
Get immunized – it not only protects you, but those around you! The CDC recommends that everyone over the age of 6 months get their yearly flu vaccine.
And, too, it is especially important in those who are considered to be at an increased risk for complications.
It is important to note that those who are immunized and still catch the flu, generally have a decreased risk of complications, hospitalizations, and death. In other words, the flu shot blunts the impact and offers a level of protection.
It usually takes our body’s immune system up to 2 weeks to manufacture the antibodies that can attack the influenza virus, so it is important to get vaccinated now—don’t delay! Also, infants and children up to age 8 years of age receiving the flu shot for the first time may need two doses of the vaccine (four weeks apart) to become fully immunized. So, it is important that they get their first dose now so they can complete both doses ASAP.
And, too, unlike some other immunizations that offer lifetime or many years of protection (e.g., pneumococcal, measles), you must get the flu shot every year. This is because the circulating influenza viruses change from year to year and also immunity to them wanes (fades).