Charleen Faucette, MT, Director of Infection Prevention
Chester County Hospital
Published: October 13, 2014
The kids have headed back to school, nights are getting cooler and the days are getting shorter. All signs that flu season is here! There's not much we can do about the weather or change of seasons but we can go a long way to diminish the impact of influenza.
Influenza, a.k.a. the flu, is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza virus. Most people experience a mild to moderate illness but flu can sometimes cause severe complications that require hospitalization and, in some instances, may even result in death. People over 65, children under the age of 5 (and especially those under 2 years old), pregnant women, and those with underlying medical conditions are at higher risk of severe complications. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends immunization for all persons 6 months old and older that do not have any contraindications to the vaccines or their components. Check with your health care professional to determine if you have any reason you should not get flu vaccine.
The flu is not just a bad cold. Symptoms usually start suddenly and can include some, or all, of the following: fever (which can be high, even in adults), cough, runny or stuffy nose, extreme fatigue, muscle and body aches, and headache. Some people, especially children, may also experience diarrhea. Symptoms generally last three days or so. If you have the flu, begin to feel better, and then symptoms return or worsen, contact your health care provider as you may be developing a serious complication like a sinus infection or pneumonia.
Influenza is a seasonal infection that usually circulates in our area from October to April but may begin earlier and can continue into May. Because of the timeframe, flu vaccine can be available as early as late July. It takes a week or so for your body to fully respond to the vaccine and develop protection and that protection is strongest for about six months. Make sure to get your vaccination well in advance of flu season so you'll have the best protection. Flu vaccines are now available in a variety forms: the traditional injection, which is made from three different types of virus (trivalent vaccine); a new flu shot made from four strains (quadrivalent vaccine); a high-dose vaccine licensed for people over 65; and an intra-nasal spray. Although the intra-nasal vaccine may seem like an easier way to get immunized, it is not appropriate for all people depending on age and some other risk factors. Be sure to check with your health care provider or vaccine clinic personnel to see which type is best for you and your family. None of the vaccines currently available are recommended for children under 6-months old.
Other common sense steps can also help prevent the spread of influenza. Clean your hands often! Flu germs can be picked up on your hands and then transmitted to you or others. Practice good "cough etiquette" by covering your mouth when you cough... cough into the bend of your elbow or a tissue ... but don't cough into your hand. Be sure to dispose of used tissues in the trash. Avoid close contact with people who appear to be sick and if you have the flu, stay home from work, school or other crowded locations to prevent exposing others.
So, break out those cozy sweaters, embrace the change of seasons, and get flu shots for you and your family so that you all can truly enjoy the crisp beauty of the fall months.
This article was published as part of the Daily Local News Medical Column series which appears every Monday. It has been reprinted by permission of the Daily Local News.