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Flu Season Is Here: Did You Get Your Flu Vaccine?
By Nancy Kennedy

Want to do something wonderful for your family, neighbors and co-workers? Get a flu shot, and encourage them to do the same.

Flu season is fast approaching, and millions of people will become infected with this highly contagious respiratory virus. Hundreds of thousands of them will become so ill that they require hospitalization, and thousands will die from the disease. Most of those who get the flu will just be very sick – but the flu is a preventable disease. An annual flu vaccine is the best way to avoid getting sick with the flu.

“Classic influenza causes abrupt fever, body aches, runny nose, sore throat and cough,” says Amanda Michael, D.O., infectious disease specialist at St. Clair Hospital. “Many viruses cause flu-like symptoms and it can be difficult to distinguish between a mild case of the flu and some of the other viruses that cause upper respiratory infections. When there is a lot of documented circulating influenza virus in the community, and you have those symptoms it is most likely flu.”

Flu is a common disease, but that does not make it any less serious. Infection with the influenza virus can lead to complications such as pneumonia for high risk groups that include infants and young children, pregnant women and those who have recently given birth, the elderly, persons with weakened immune systems due to illness or medication, and those with chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, COPD, or heart disease.

Dr. Michael recommends that everyone should get the annual flu vaccine, beginning at six months of age and throughout the remainder of life. Parents should get their children and themselves vaccinated. Flu vaccine is safe, with low risk of adverse effects. Possible side effects are soreness at the injection site, low grade fever, mild headache and general achiness.

Unlike some vaccines whose effects last for years, flu vaccine is essential every year because every flu season is different. Dr. Michael explains: “Each year, the strains of circulating influenza virus can differ. Influenza is constantly changing. Updated vaccines are made each year to try and anticipate which strains will likely be needed for the coming season. Immunity wanes over time, too, particularly if someone has a chronic health problem, or a weakened immune system, or is elderly. These individuals may not make the same robust amount of antibody to begin with, compared to healthy young people.”

Even though the flu vaccine may not exactly match the circulating flu viruses, Dr. Michael says it is still essential to get a flu shot. “We can’t tell in advance exactly which virus strains will be circulating, and so any protective advantage is worthwhile given how many days of work are missed each year from influenza and how many people develop influenza-related illness (including secondary bacterial infections after getting influenza) requiring hospitalization. The CDC tracks seasonal flu outbreaks and performs vaccine effectiveness studies each season to estimate flu vaccine effectiveness.

“Each year, it is estimated that millions of illnesses, hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations, and thousands to tens of thousands of deaths are prevented with the influenza vaccine.”

Although flu vaccine is safe for the majority of people, some should not get it:  those who have had a severe anaphylactic reaction in the past to the flu vaccine or one of its components, and those who have had Guillain Barre syndrome less than six weeks after getting an influenza vaccine in the past. Those with severe egg allergy should get a version of the flu vaccine that does not use chicken eggs in the production process.

Flu season generally begins in October and lasts until May, according to the CDC. Many pediatricians and primary care physicians start offering the vaccine in late August. It can usually be obtained at doctor’s offices, clinics, pharmacies, senior centers and sometimes at supermarkets.

The more people that get the vaccine in a community, the less flu virus there will be in that community, and that helps to protect the vulnerable people. So be a good neighbor, and be a good friend – get your flu shot.

To learn more about Rehabilitation Services at Ohio Valley Hospital, visit www.ohiovalleyhospital.org.

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