I recently discussed how the flu season is just around the corner and thought it be a good idea to follow it up with what we all can do to hopefully avoid it. But I'm sure many would first like to know a bit more about the flu before hearing about the vaccine to prevent it. So first on my list to share is that we realize the true name is actually influenza. Certainly, it's nice and easy to just call it the flu, but over the years, saying "I have the flu" may imply a stomach bug to just a good "cold" to actually having the bona fide influenza...high fever, fatigue, sore throat, muscle aches, nasal congestion, and so on. So in respect to this illness, I will also refer to it by its true name. Otherwise, additional bits of information about this virus include:
- In the United States alone, 5-20% of the population may become infected with this illness with greater than 200,000 people requiring hospitalization and 36,000 individuals dying from it.
- The elderly, the young, and those with specific underlying health conditions (e.g. asthma, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease) are at risk of developing complications secondary to acquiring this illness. Some of these complications include pneumonia, sinus infections, and ear infections.
- People may infect others before developing symptoms (usually 1 day before) and up to 5 days after becoming ill. And it can easily be spread by just a simple cough or sneeze.
- There are 2 strains of influenza virus: A & B. And within each strain, there are different types (and sometimes even subtypes). What makes this virus difficult is it is constantly changing (which serves as the primary reason why we have a new influenza vaccine each year).
So what about this influenza vaccine?
- There are two different types of vaccines. The "shot" is a non-live virus (AKA killed) vaccine. It is approved for infants 6 months of age to the elderly. The nasal-spray vaccine is made with a weakened live virus that does not cause the flu. It is now approved for those 2-49 years of age who are not pregnant or asthmatic.
- The vaccine typically includes two A strains and one B strain.
- Recommendations on who should get vaccinated when vaccine supply is not a concern include about everyone these days (as long as older than 6 months of age). Of note, this includes pregnant women and those with chronic medical conditions (as mentioned above).
- And when should we get the vaccine? How about right now and on through the influenza season...which usually lasts until early Spring.
- And without trying to bombard parents with too much information, for children 8 years of age and younger, the very first season will include two doses of the vaccine and not just one.
When is the vaccine not recommended?
- Those with a significant allergy to chicken eggs
- Anyone less than 6 months of age (as already mentioned above).
- If someone is ill with a fever, he/she should wait until the illness resolves before receiving the vaccine.
- Those who have either had a severe reaction in the past to the vaccine or those who developed Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) within 6 weeks of getting the vaccine in previous years.
So now you have the information and I hope it impresses upon you the importance of influenza vaccination. But if you are looking for more, I refer you to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website... http://www.cdc.gov/flu/.