ENID, Okla. —
Last year’s flu season started late and ended up being one of the mildest ever, but that’s no reason to be complacent this year. The Centers for Disease Control is again recommending universal vaccination — a flu shot for virtually everyone age six months and older as soon as possible after the vaccine becomes available in your area.
Flu seasons vary in severity and timing; the only thing that can be predicted is that there will be one. Between 1976 and 2006, flu-associated deaths have ranged from 3,000 to 49,000 a year.
Factors that can affect the severity include what flu strains are circulating, how well the vaccines for that year match those strains and how many individuals get the vaccine.
For most of us, the flu means a week or two of misery and significant lost time from work or school. That’s bad enough, but a certain number of persons each year develop life-threatening complications such as pneumonia or worsening of asthma or heart failure.
Immunization is crucial for the most vulnerable persons, including: persons with chronic medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, heart or lung disease; pregnant women; seniors age 65 and over, and young children. Persons who live with or care for persons at risk of complications should also be sure to get a flu shot.
Those who should not get a shot include anyone who has a severe allergy to chicken eggs; has had a severe reaction to a previous flu shot; is moderately to severely ill with a fever at the time; or has a history of Guillain-Barre Syndrome.
Flu viruses are constantly changing, and the vaccine each year is developed to protect against the three viruses public health experts expect to be most prevalent: an A/California/7/2009 (H1N1)pdmo9-like virus, an A/Victoria/361/2011 (H3N2)-like virus, and a B/Wisconsin/1/2010-like virus from the B/Yamagata line of viruses.
Although flu season usually peaks in January and February, infections can start occurring as early as October. Since it takes about two weeks for the antibodies to develop and start providing full protection, doctors recommend getting a flu shot as soon as the vaccine becomes available.
Shots are readily available in most communities–at pharmacies, supermarkets, shopping centers, schools, churches and community centers.
If you don’t see a notice in the paper or on the bulletin board, contact your local health department, Visiting Nurses’ Association or American Lung Association. You can also use the Flu Vaccine Finder (flushot.healthmap.org) or Google.
Any worry about catching the flu from getting a shot is unfounded; the vaccine is made from a killed or inactivated virus that has been tested and approved for use.
You have three options: the regular shot for persons age 6 months and older; a high-dose shot for individuals age 65 and over; and an intradermal shot (injected into the skin rather than a muscle using a small needle) for persons age 18-64.
In addition, there is a nasal spray made from weakened rather than killed virus. It is a mist to be sprayed into the nose and is recommended for healthy persons age 2-49, but not for pregnant women or other possibly vulnerable individuals.
Unfortunately, vaccination against the flu is not 100 percent effective. Any flu illness you get, however, is likely to be less severe if you’ve had a shot.
Other ways to protect yourself are the same as for other upper respiratory infections such as colds. Viruses are usually spread on airborne droplets made when someone with the flu coughs, sneezes or talks. So it’s important to steer clear of anyone around you who seems to be coming down with an infection. You should also practice good cough etiquette yourself and teach it to your children.
The virus can also linger on surfaces such as doorknobs and stair railings so frequent hand washing during flu season is important, particularly when someone in your household is ill.
As a viral infection, the flu will not respond to antibiotics, but antiviral medications such as Tamiflu and Relenza can lessen the effect of the illness. Much more than a bad cold, the flu may require a trip to the doctor.
Rupp is a certified information and referral specialist on aging for NODA Area Agency on Aging. Contact her at 237-2236.