November 16, 2012
As we scramble around to find the perfect gift, it might not be a bad idea to add a flu shot to your ‘to-do’ list. Even though the traditional flu season peaks in January and February, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is anticipating an up-tick in influenza reports this season.
That is why local health officials are encouraging Michiganders to get their flu shots or flu nasal spays now so they will be protected before the holiday crush begins. That is especially true for persons age 65 and over, those with chronic medical conditions, pregnant women, and individuals who care for persons with chronic medical conditions.
From 5 to 20 percent of the U.S. population catches the flu annually, and although most get well within a couple of weeks, about 200,000 require hospitalization and 24,000 die because of the flu each year.
“Influenza, commonly referred to as ‘the flu,’ is a respiratory illness spread by a virus that infects the nose, throat, bronchial airways, and lungs,” says Dr. Gregory Harrington, an infectious disease physician affiliated with Bronson Medical Group—Battle Creek, and medical director for the Calhoun County Public Health Department. “This highly contagious virus is spread via airborne droplets from coughing and sneezing. Incubation takes only two to three days.”
The best way to protect yourself is to get a yearly flu shot, and persons most likely to benefit are those at high risk of suffering serious complications and persons who could pass the virus on to others who are sick or have weakened immunity.
Other groups considered high risk are children ages 6 months to 5 years, healthcare workers, seniors living in nursing homes, and household contacts with persons of high risk. Chronic medical conditions that put a person at risk include asthma, heart disease, diabetes, kidney and liver disorders, neurological conditions, epilepsy, stroke, muscular dystrophy, and morbid obesity.
Last year, individuals falling into one or more of those high risk categories added up to about 85 percent of the population…85 percent. Recently a panel of vaccine experts decided in favor of universal flu vaccination—recommending that everyone 6 months of age or older get a flu vaccination every year.
The only exceptions to the universal recommendation are persons who have a severe allergy to chicken eggs; have had a reaction to influenza vaccination in the past; or developed Guillian-Barre syndrome within six weeks of a previous flu shot. Anyone with a moderate to severe illness with fever at the time should wait to get vaccinated.
Studies of community outbreaks indicate that school-age children have the highest rates of illness. This suggests that universal vaccination of children will reduce infections in their household and in the community.
“There are a number of false assumptions about the flu vaccine,” says Dr. Harrington. “Because it is made with ‘inactivated’ virus it cannot give you the flu. It does, however, take a couple of weeks before your body builds up enough antibodies to be protective, so it is possible to get the flu in the period shortly after having the shot. It is also possible that the strains selected in the annual vaccine may not adequately reflect the most common strain in your area. And because the dominant strains vary each year, you have to be vaccinated every year to maintain protection.”
No one wants to get the flu. At best, it causes short-term illness and several days’ lost from work or school. But at worst, it can lead to life-threatening complications. There is one easy way to head off the misery … if you haven’t already, get the flu vaccination this year. When you do, you can take it off your holiday ‘to-do’ list.
Bronson Battle Creek is a 218-bed hospital that provides full outpatient and inpatient acute care including robotic surgery, diagnostics, and rehabilitation services; 100% all private rooms. It also offers world-class diagnostic capabilities including PET/CT imaging, freestanding ‘open’ and traditional MRI, CT (16- and 64-slice), and 3.0 Tesla MRI. Bronson Battle Creek has been recognized nationally as one of the safest hospitals, and has been a leader in the development of electronic health records as evidenced by multiple honors as one of America’s ‘most wired’ and ‘most wireless’ hospitals. The Commission on Cancer of the American College of Surgeons recognizes the Bronson Battle Creek Cancer Care Center as a Comprehensive Community Cancer Program, and the only hospital in Michigan to receive the CoC’s Outstanding Achievement Award three times in a row. Specialty services include inpatient behavioral health, the county’s largest accredited sleep center, and a wound-healing center with hyperbaric oxygen therapy. For nine years, Bronson Healthcare has been included on Working Mother magazine’s 100 Best Companies list as a leading family friendly employer.
Facts & Myths
Myth: The flu is annoying but harmless.
Facts: Influenza (flu) is a serious disease of the nose, throat, and lungs, and it can lead to pneumonia. Each year about 200,000 people in the U.S. are hospitalized and about 24,000 people die because of the flu. Most who die are 65 years and older. But small children less than 2 years old are as likely as those over 65 to have to go to the hospital because of the flu.
Myth: You can get the flu from a flu shot.
Facts: The flu shot cannot cause the flu because it is an ‘inactive’ vaccine, which means that the virus on it has been killed. Some people get a little soreness or redness where they get the shot, but that usually goes away in a day or two. Serious problems from the flu shot are very rare.
Myth: The flu shot gives you complete protection.
Facts: Most of the time the flu shot will prevent the flu. In scientific studies, the effectiveness of the flu shot has ranged from 70-90% when there is a good match between circulating viruses and those in the vaccine. Getting the vaccine is your best protection against this disease.
Myth: The side effects are worse than the flu.
Facts: The worst side effect you are likely to get from a shot is a sore arm. The nasal mist flu vaccine might cause nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat, and cough. The risk of a severe allergic reaction is less than 1 in 4 million.
Myth: Only older people need a flu vaccine.
Facts: The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends everyone over the age of 6 months receive the influenza vaccine. Also, adults and children with conditions like asthma, diabetes, heart disease, and kidney disease need to get a flu shot. But healthy people who are at low risk still spend time around family members who are much more susceptible to the virus. If you have young children at home, or if you're a caregiver for anyone in a high-risk group, your getting the flu shot helps protect them as well.
Myth: You must get the flu vaccine before December.
Facts: Flu vaccine can be given before or during the flu season. The best time to get vaccinated is September, October, or November. But you can get vaccinated in December or later and still reap the benefit the vaccine offers against the flu.
Myth: I am healthy and do not get the flu.
Facts: Most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning one to two days before symptoms develop and up to five days after becoming sick.