Fall is upon us and it’s a time for festivals, football and that other “f” word, flu. The flu virus changes every year with new strains and mutant strains. Did you know that 70-90% of people 65 years of age and younger who receive the vaccination do not get the flu? This is directly tied to the “match” between vaccine and when any circulating strains are close. Flu season is most common in fall and winter, but peaks in January and February.
What is the flu? The influenza virus, commonly called flu, is a contagious respiratory infection. Unlike the common cold, the flu causes severe illness and potential life-threatening complications in some (particularly the elderly or those with weakened immune systems). Most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to 5-7 days after becoming sick.
Why do you need the flu vaccine? First and foremost, you can get the flu more than once in your lifetime, and secondly, a vaccine from the previous year may not protect against new viruses.
Who should get the flu vaccine? Everyone under the age of 6 months or older, but especially those age 50 and older should get the vaccine. Most susceptible are those who have chronic pulmonary issues (including asthma or COPD), cardiovascular problems, as well as renal, hepatic, neurologic, hematologic or metabolic disorders, including diabetes mellitus. In addition, many seniors may also be immune-suppressed. And as empty nesters and grandparents, you may be exposed to other germs if you are in contact with children younger than five. They are little petri dishes and germ carriers.
A common question is whether the flu shot will give me the flu? Answer: No. Injectable flu vaccines are made from influenza viruses that have been inactivated (killed). An inactivated flu virus cannot give you the flu.
About two weeks after you receive your vaccination, antibodies develop that protect you against the flu. However, flu vaccines will not protect you against the common cold or other respiratory illnesses. Plus, if you are afraid of the shot, many pharmacies and your doctor also offer a nasal spray option.
When should you get the vaccine? The sooner the better. People 65 years of age and older, those with chronic medical conditions (including asthma, emphysema, heart disease and diabetes), pregnant women and children 5 years of age and under are those at a higher risk for complications.
Be aware and informed. Talk to your personal physician. Many local pharmacies/drug stores offer the flu vaccine for a nominal cost and have dedicated days to flu shots. Check out your local Walgreens (www.Walgreens.com), CVS (www.CVS.com), RIte-Aid or your local grocery store pharmacies, such as Giant Eagle, Kroger, etc.