Flu shot helps to prevent the influenza virus
By: Les Riess, M.D.
Coughing, headache, fever, respiratory congestion, fatigue and muscle aches – no one wants to get the flu.
Influenza, which is commonly referred to as the “flu,” is an extremely contagious virus that is passed from person to person through respiratory secretions. These secretions may be inhaled droplets that are in the air after someone sneezes. They can be spread when items such as utensils, drinking glasses or straws are shared or if you have direct contact (such as kissing or holding hands) with a person who has been infected with the virus. Finally, they may be on surfaces, such as doorknobs or faucet handles. In this last example, the virus enters your body when you touch an infected surface and then touch or rub your eyes, nose or mouth.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the flu causes illness in 10 to 20 percent of the population each year. This results in an estimated 36,000 deaths and 200,000 hospitalizations in the U.S. Some people are at higher risk for complications from the flu. They include infants and young children, elderly adults and people with certain health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, lung disease and other chronic medical problems.
There are a number of things you can do to avoid the flu this winter. The first is to get a flu shot. The CDC recently updated their recommendations for use of the influenza vaccine to include all children ages six months to 18 years old. This adds about 30 million people to the flu vaccination recommendations.
The CDC also recommends flu shots for all adults 50 and older, anyone with certain chronic medical conditions, pregnant women, people living in long-term care facilities, health care workers, people who have daily contact with someone in one of the risk groups and family members and caregivers of children less than six months old.
The flu vaccine prevents the most likely types of influenza by introducing an inactivated (not live) virus into the body. Because the virus is inactivated, it cannot cause the flu. Most of the time it causes no side effects.
It is important to note that the benefits from getting a flu shot far outweigh the risk of side effects that might be caused by the vaccine. Side effects are not common, and generally mild. They include: some soreness and swelling in the arm in which you were vaccinated, runny nose, sore through, cough, headache, low grade fever and body aches for a day or two after getting the shot.
If you are wary of needles, you might want to ask your health care provider about FluMist, a flu vaccine that’s delivered in a nasal spray. FluMist is now approved for healthy individuals ages two to 49 who are not pregnant. It contains a live, but weakened flu virus. The side effects are similar to those of the flu shot.
In addition to the flu shot, there are other things you can do to minimize your risk of contracting the virus this season. Wash your hands and keep them away from your mouth, nose and eyes. Keep toothbrushes separated and replace them frequently. For families with young children, wash toys, teething rings and pacifiers often with soap and water and then dry them thoroughly. Wipe counters, sinks, faucets, doorknobs, handles, remote controls, telephones, the computer mouse and other places where the virus might linger with a bleach solution. The CDC recommends 1/4-cup bleach to one gallon water as a disinfectant.
Because the flu shot is the best way to prevent the flu, and because of the increased recommendations from the CDC, Raiter Clinic will offer two flu clinics in November. These will be on November 4 and 18. Flu shots will be available at the clinic on those days from 8:30 – noon and from 1:30 pm to 4:00 pm. As always, you can make an appointment with your health care provider to receive a flu shot at another time.
We’re heading into the flu season, but you don’t have to go through it unprotected. Arm yourself with the best defense against influenza: get a flu shot and increase the likelihood that your winter will be healthy and flu-free.
Dr. Riess is a board certified family practice physician at Raiter Clinic.