With the change of seasons and the winter solstice looming, thoughts turn to the holidays, to early evenings and hot chocolate, to scarves and mittens and – inevitably – the flu.
Influenza season can run from October to May, peaking in January or later. While early vaccination is best – studies have shown that the flu vaccine provides immunity through a complete flu season – it's not too late to get vaccinated.
The flu is a contagious, respiratory virus that, at best, leaves you feeling under the weather for a week and, at worst, can cause serious complications leading to hospitalization or even death. Flu symptoms include fever or feeling feverish; chills; cough; sore throat; runny or stuffy nose; sore muscles or body aches; headaches; fatigue; vomiting or diarrhea. Not all patients experience all symptoms, and symptoms can range from mild to severe. On average, more than 200,000 people in the U.S. are hospitalized with flu complications each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
"Get vaccinated yearly," suggests Lauren Carruth Mehnert, MD, a physician with AtlantiCare's Special Care Centers in Galloway and Atlantic City. "Flu viruses are constantly changing, so the vaccine is updated annually to protect against the most recent and most prevalent strains." Moreover, immunity diminishes over a year's time, so even if you got the flu shot last year, you'll want to get vaccinated again for the 2013-2014 season.
"Flu vaccines are the first and best defense we have to protect against this serious disease," says Mary Beth Kelly, director, Infection Prevention and Patient Safety, AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center. Even in flu seasons where there is a less than ideal match between the flu vaccine and flu viruses in the community, vaccination can help protect against serious flu-related complications, including hospitalization. The vaccine is recommended for healthy adults and children older than six months of age with no history of allergic reaction to the vaccine. It can be administered in a variety of ways, including an injection - the most common administration - and nasal sprays.
"Some people believe you can get the flu from the vaccine, but that's not true. If you get sick after being vaccinated, it's usually because you were exposed to the flu or another virus before your body built up immunity," Carruth Mehnert says. "The flu can be serious, potentially leading to sinus infection, bronchitis, pneumonia or a worsening of chronic health conditions. My best advice is get vaccinated every year."
It takes about two weeks after immunization for the body to build up antibodies that protect against the flu. For this reason, the CDC recommends getting vaccinated as soon as possible once a new flu shot becomes available.
How to avoid getting the flu:
The influenza virus can be spread through direct contact with infected individuals; by contact with contaminated objects or surfaces, such as a doorknob; and by breathing in air contaminated with germs from a person infected with the flu.
If you get sick:
Prescription medication is available for people who are at higher risk for severe illness from the flu - older people, young children, people with certain chronic illnesses such as asthma or diabetes, and pregnant women. Talk to your doctor about antiviral medication if you are at risk and experience flu-like symptoms.
"Winter is full of so many fun things – we go sledding, we celebrate holidays, we spend time with family – I don't want my patients to miss out," says Carruth Mehnert "The flu is lousy and comes with potentially high risks. The flu shot is so easy and offers such a great benefit."
To learn more, visit the US Department of Health and Human Services' website www.flu.gov
To find an AtlantiCare provider, visit www.atlanticare.org or call the AtlantiCare Access Center at 1-888-569-1000.
|Copyright© AtlantiCare 2014. All Rights Reserved.|