By Glenn Ellis
(Trice Edney Wire) – Our flu season is around the corner. And while the timing varies in different parts of the country, most flu activity — influenza-like illness, hospitalizations, and sadly even deaths – will occur between October 2016 and run into May 2017.
A highly contagious illness caused by influenza viruses. Similar to the common cold, the flu affects the respiratory system — nose, throa, and lungs—and can cause a runny nose, cough and sore throat. But unlike the common cold, the flu also attacks the entire body — a fever of 100oF or higher, headaches, cough, body aches, chills, fatigue, and nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea (more common in children). The flu is a serious disease and can lead to complications, hospitalization, and even death.
We all get information or reminders to get a Flu shot. But, most of us are either suspicious or just down right don’t think it’s that big a deal.
I’m not going to attempt to convince you one way or the other, I just want to make sure that whatever decision you make is an informed decision. So here’s a little information that may prove helpful.
First of all, let’s begin with what is the Flu?
The Flu is a highly contagious illness caused by influenza viruses. Similar to the common cold, the flu affects the respiratory system – nose, throat, and lungs – and can cause a runny nose, cough and sore throat. But unlike the common cold, the flu also attacks the entire body – a fever of 100oF or higher, headaches, cough, body aches, chills, fatigue, and nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea (more common in children). The flu is a serious disease and can lead to complications, hospitalization, and even death.
The influenza virus is most commonly spread via aerosolized droplets that can travel up to 6 feet. It is important to stay away from people who are coughing and sneezing. The virus can also survive on surfaces or objects and infect a person if they touch their mouth or nose.
Most people who get the flu improve within a week (though they may have a lingering cough and get tired easily long after a week passes); however, the flu can cause serious complications.
If you’re young and healthy, influenza usually isn’t serious. Although you may feel miserable while you have it, the flu usually goes away with no lasting effects.
You can have flu complications if you get a bacterial infection, which can cause pneumonia in your weakened lungs. The flu virus itself also can cause pneumonia. Flu complications, such as pneumonia, usually appear after the patient starts to feel better.
Pneumonia can be a very serious and sometimes life-threatening condition. If you have any of these symptoms, you should contact your health care provider immediately to get the appropriate treatment.
Pneumonia is the major serious complication of influenza and can be very serious. It can develop about 5 days after viral influenza. More than 90% of the deaths caused by influenza and pneumonia occur among older adults.
Now, when it comes to the flu shot, it is an inactivated vaccine (containing killed virus) that is given with a needle, usually in the arm. Because the viruses are inactive, they cannot cause infections. The vaccine preparation is based on the strains of the flu viruses that are in circulation at the time and includes A and B viruses expected to circulate the following winter. Viruses for the flu shot are grown in eggs. The flu shot is approved for use in persons older than 6 months, including healthy persons and those with chronic medical conditions.
When the “match” between vaccine and circulating strains is close, the flu shot prevents influenza in about 70 percent to 90 percent of healthy persons younger than 65 years.
Among elderly persons living outside chronic-care facilities and those persons with chronic medical conditions, the flu shot is 30 percent to 70 percent effective in preventing hospitalization for pneumonia and influenza. Among elderly nursing home residents, the flu shot is most effective in preventing severe illness, secondary complications, and deaths related to the flu. In this population, the shot can be 50 percent to 60 percent effective in preventing hospitalization or pneumonia and 80% effective in preventing death from the flu.
Experts must pick which viruses to include in the vaccine many months in advance in order for vaccine to be produced and delivered on time. And flu viruses change constantly (called drift); they can change from one season to the next or they can even change within the course of one flu season. Because of these factors, there is always the possibility of a less than optimal match between circulating viruses and the viruses in the vaccine.
In spite of the controversy and difficulty many are having over whether to take the vaccine, there are a few things you should know in regards to vaccines and the flu.
The lingering question and debate among scientists and regular folks like us remains, “Does getting a vaccination really make a difference”?
It is possible to get sick with flu even if you have been vaccinated (although you won’t know for sure unless you get a flu test and it is positive).
Protection provided by flu vaccination can vary widely, based in part on health and age factors of the person getting vaccinated. In general, the flu vaccine works best among young healthy adults and older children. Some older people and people with certain chronic illnesses may develop less immunity after vaccination. While vaccination offers the best protection against flu infection, it’s still possible that some people may become ill after being vaccinated.
Flu vaccination is not a perfect tool, but it is the best tool currently at our disposal to prevent flu.
Remember, I’m not a doctor. I just sound like one. Take good care of yourself and live the best life possible!
The information included in this column is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan.