Medical Monday: Take precautions against flu
October 23, 2011
It can start with a sore throat, headache or runny nose. When the body aches take hold, you know you're in trouble.
The seasonal flu vaccine is the first line of defense against an illness that can leave one stuck at home feeling miserable, or worse, in the hospital with pneumonia. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends everyone ages 6 months and older get a flu vaccine each year.
These recommendations are intended to further protect those most vulnerable to getting sick, including young children, pregnant women, older adults and people with underlying health conditions. On average, about 24,000 people die every year from flu-related complications. Most hospitalizations and deaths are among older adults whose immune systems tend to be less efficient, according to the CDC.
The flu can exacerbate conditions including diabetes, respiratory or immune-compromising diseases, and heart, lung and kidney diseases.
Healthy persons may not worry about getting very ill from the flu, but if they do get sick, they could unknowingly put others at risk, said Janice Poirot, public health nurse at the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association.
There are several types of flu vaccine. The flu shot is an inactivated vaccine containing a killed virus. It's approved for all people older than 6 months. A flu shot will not give someone the flu but may cause minor side effects such as low-grade fever and aches.
Nasal spray flu vaccines are available to individuals ages 2 through 49 who do not have an underlying health condition. It contains live, weakened flu viruses that do not cause the flu but can result in symptoms including headaches, sore throat and cough in adults and fever, muscle aches and runny nose in children.
"If you have a normal immune system, you will have no problem with the nasal vaccine," Poirot said.
Some children ages 9 or younger may need a booster vaccine depending on their flu vaccination history. A high-dose (inactivated) vaccine is available to boost immune response in adults 65 and older.
"Data has shown for a couple of years that the regular flu vaccine is not as effective in the senior population as the non-senior population," Poirot said.
It's best to get the flu vaccine before December to ensure protection during peak flu season, which is typically during late winter/early spring locally. It can take as long as two weeks after vaccination for a person to develop protection.
Allergic reactions to the influenza vaccine are rare. People should consult with their doctor before getting the vaccine if they are allergic to chicken eggs, have had a severe reaction to the vaccine in the past, have a moderate to severe illness with a fever or have had Guillain-Barré syndrome.
Flu symptoms can include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, fatigue and sometimes diarrhea and vomiting. People who get sick with the flu should stay home from work or school until at least 24 hours after their fever is gone, according to the CDC.
An adult should seek immediate medical attention if experiencing difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen, sudden dizziness, confusion or severe or persistent vomiting.
Emergency warning signs in children include fast breathing or difficulty breathing, bluish skin color, inability to eat or drink fluids, not waking or interacting, fever with a rash, crying without tears or if flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough (this is a warning sign for adults, too).
Antiviral drugs — prescription medications that can lessen symptoms and duration — are available to people at risk of becoming very sick from the flu. Older adults, pregnant women, children and people with underlying medical conditions should check with their doctors promptly after getting sick. Antiviral drugs are most effective when started within 48 hours of illness.
Most clinics have a limited supply of antiviral drugs available to low-income individuals at no cost. These are from government supplies provided to Routt and Moffat counties during the spread of the H1N1 flu virus in 2009.
The VNA and most primary care providers have flu vaccines available. VNA drop-in clinics are happening in various locations in Steamboat, Hayden, Yampa and Craig. The VNA accepts Medicare, Medicaid and CHP+ for flu vaccine payment. For a list of VNA drop-in flu clinics, visit http://www.nwcovna.org or call 970-871-7624.
Tamera Manzanares is a community outreach specialist for the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association.
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