Sunday, September 27, 2009

Are You Prepared for Flu Season?

Well, it is just about that time of year again: flu season. No one is really ever ready for it, but it is better to be prepared early than to catch the flu and regret it later. The flu is a type of contagious respiratory illness that is caused by influenza viruses. Most of the time it is a mild illness, but in some cases it can be more severe and at times even cause death. The best way to prevent against the seasonal flu is by getting a seasonal flu vaccination annually.

Each year, on average, in the United States:

Approximately 5 to 20 percent of the population catches the flu.
More than 200,000 of the people are hospitalized from complications from the flu.
Approximately 36,000 people die from flu-related causes each year.
Some people, such as the elderly, women who are pregnant, young children, and people that have certain health conditions (such as heart disease, asthma, or diabetes), are at an increased risk for developing serious complications from the seasonal flu. This flu season, the scientists believe that the new and very difficult flu virus (called Novel 2009 H1N1) could cause a lot more people to get sick than during a normal flu season. The vaccine for H1N1 is said to start shipping out in mid-October. The side effects of the vaccine are expexted to be very rare, and if there are any they will be similar to the regular seasonal flu vaccine.

Seasonal Flu Symptoms:

Dry cough
Stuffy or runny nose
Aching muscles
Fever that is often high
Extreme fatigue
Sore throat
Sometimes stomach symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea can occur, but these symptoms are seen more in children than adults. Some of the people who have gotten the new H1N1 flu virus have reported vomiting and diarrhea as some of the symptoms.

Complications of the flu can include such things as ear infections, dehydrations, pneumonia, sinus infections, and worsening of any chronic medical conditions, such as asthma, congestive heart failure, or diabetes.

How the Flu Spreads
The flu viruses are thought to spread mainly from person to person through a sneeze or cough by a person that has the influenza virus. Sometimes, touching something that has the flu viruses on it and then touching your nose or mouth may cause infection. Healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning as soon as one day before symptoms develop and up to 5-7 days after getting sick. This means that you may be able to pass on the flu to someone else and never even know you are sick, as well as while you are sick.

Preventing the Seasonal Flu: Getting Vaccinated
The best way to prevent getting sick with the flu is to have a seasonal flu vaccination every year. There are two types of flu vaccines being produced:

The traditional “flu shot”: This is an inactivated vaccine (which contains killed virus) that is given though a needle. This shot is approved for use in people ages 6 months and older, including healthy people as well as people with chronic medical conditions.
The nasal-spray flu vaccine: This is a vaccine that is made with live, weakened flu viruses that do not cause you to get the flu (sometimes called LAIV for “Live Attenuated Influenza Vaccine”). LAIV is approved for people who are ages 2-49 that are healthy and not pregnant.
Approximately two weeks after the vaccination, antibodies begin to develop that help protect against influenza virus infection. The seasonal flu vaccines will not protect against flu-like illnesses that are caused by non-influenza viruses.

Annual seasonal flu vaccinations should begin to be given in September, or as soon as it is available, and continue throughout the flu season into December, January, and beyond. This time frame is flexible because the duration and timing of flu season varies from year to year. While seasonal flu outbreaks can happen as early as October, generally the peak of flu activity is in January or later.

In general, anyone who would like to reduce his or her chances of getting the seasonal flu can get vaccinated. However, there are certain people who should get vaccinated every year either because they are at a very high risk of having serious flu-related complications or because they live with or care for people with a high risk. During the flu season when the supply of vaccine supplies are limited, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) makes the recommendations regarding the priority groups to receive the vaccination.

Children who are age 6 months up to their 19th birthday
Women who are pregnant
People who are 50 years of age and older
People of any age that have certain chronic medical conditions
People that live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
People that live with or care for people that are at high risk for complication from the flu, which include:
Health care workers
Household contact of people at high risk for complications due to the flu
Household contacts and out of home caregivers of children that are less that 6 months of age (these children are too young to receive the vaccination)

The vaccination using the nasal-spray flu vaccine is only an option for healthy people that are between the ages of 2 to 49 who are not pregnant and even healthy people that live with or care for those in the high-risk group. The one exception is healthy people that have severely weakened immune systems that require a protected environment. These people should get the inactivated flu vaccination. (A nasal spray vaccine to help protect against the seasonal flu will not protect you against the new H1N1 flu. A new vaccine to protect against the H1N1 flu is being produced.)

Who Should Not Receive the Vaccination?
Some people should never be vaccinated without first consulting their doctor. They include:

People that have a severe allergy to chicken eggs.
People that have had a severe reaction to an influenza vaccination in the past.
People that have developed Guillian-Barre syndrome (GBS) within 6 weeks of receiving an influenza vaccine previously.
Children that are less than 6 months of age (the influenza vaccine is not approved for use in this young age group).
People who suffer from a moderate or severe illness with a fever should wait to get vaccinated until their symptoms start to lessen.

If you have any question regarding whether you should get a flu vaccine, you should consult your health care provider.


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