Preventing the Flu
What is influenza? Influenza (also called “the flu”) is a viral infection in the nose, throatand lungs. About 10% to 20% of Americans get the flu each year. Some people get very sick. Each year, about 130,000 people go to a hospital with theflu, and 20,000 people die because of the flu and complications.The flu may cause fever, cough, sore throat, a runny or stuffy nose,headache, muscle aches and tiredness. Some people describe the flu as beinglike the worst cold of their life. Most people feel better after 1 or 2weeks. But for some people, the flu leads to serious, even life-threatening,diseases, such as pneumonia. Influenza vaccine (the flu shot) is recommendedfor people who are more likely to get really sick to protect them from theflu.
Who is at higher risk? Some people have a higher risk of flu complications, like pneumonia. If youare in any of these groups, you should get the flu vaccine every year:
* All children aged 6 to 59 months
* All adults aged 65 years and older
* All women who are or will be pregnant during the flu season
* Residents in nursing homes and long-term care facilities
* Individuals who have long-term health problems
* Children aged 6 months to 18 years who are on chronic aspirin therapy
* Health care workers who have direct contact with patients
* Caregivers and household contacts of children less than 6 months of age
How can I avoid getting the flu ?
The best way to avoid getting the flu is to get the influenza vaccine eachfall, before the flu season. The vaccine is available by shot or by nasalspray. The vaccines work by exposing your immune system to the flu virus.Your body will build up antibodies to the virus to protect you from gettingthe flu. The flu shot contains dead viruses. The nasal-spray vaccinecontains live but weakened viruses. You cannot get the flu from the flu shotor the nasal-spray vaccine.Some people who get the vaccine will still get the flu, but they willusually get a milder case than people who aren’t vaccinated. The vaccine isespecially recommended for people who are more likely to get really sickfrom flu-related complications.
Is there anyone who shouldn’t get the flu shot ?
Yes. The following people should talk to their doctor before getting the flushot :
* People who have had an allergic reaction to a flu shot in the past
* People with an allergy to eggs
* People who previously developed Guillain-Barré Syndrome (a reversiblereaction that causes partial or complete loss of movement of muscles,weakness or a tingling sensation in the body) within 6 weeks of getting aflu shot
Is there anyone who shouldn’t get the nasal-spray vaccine ?
Yes. The following people should talk to their doctor before getting thenasal-spray vaccine :
* Children less than 5 years of age
* Adults 50 years of age and older
* People with long-term health problems
* People with weakened immune systems
* Children aged 6 months to 18 years who are on chronic asprin therapy
* People with a history of Guillain-Barré syndrome
* Pregnant women
* People who have had an allergic reaction to a flu vaccine in the past orto eggs
If I get the flu vaccine, can I still get the flu ?
Yes. Even with a flu vaccine, you aren’t 100% protected. Each year, the fluvaccine contains 3 different strains (kinds) of the virus. The strainschosen are those that scientists believe are most likely to show up thatyear. If the choice is right, the vaccine is 70% to 90% effective inpreventing the flu in healthy people under 65 years of age. If you’re olderthan 65, the vaccine is less likely to prevent the flu. Even if you get theflu after being vaccinated, your flu symptoms should be milder than if youdidn’t get the vaccine. You’ll also be less likely to get complications fromthe flu.
Is the vaccine safe ?
Yes. The flu vaccine is safe. There are very few side effects. If you gotthe flu shot, your arm may be sore for a few days . You may have a fever,feel tired or have sore muscles for a short time. If you got the nasal-sprayvaccine, you may have a runny nose, headache, cough or sore throat.
Can I get the flu vaccine if I am pregnant or nursing ?
If you are pregnant during flu season, you cannot get the nasal-sprayvaccine. However, it is recommended that women who will be pregnant duringflu season get the shot. Pregnancy can increase your risk for complicationsfrom the flu.It is also safe to get the flu shot while breast feeding your baby. The flushot cannot cause you or your nursing baby to get sick.
What are antiviral flu drugs ?
Antiviral flu drugs are prescription medicines that can be used to helpprevent and/or treat the flu. There are four antiviral flu drugs:amantadine, oseltamivir, rimantadine and zanamavir. All 4 of these antiviraldrugs have been approved to treat the flu. If you take one of these drugswithin 2 days of getting sick, it can lessen your symptoms, decrease theamount of time you are sick and make you less contagious to other people.
However, most healthy people who have the flu get better without using anantiviral flu drug. Your doctor will decide whether one of these medicinesis right for you.
Three of the antiviral flu drugs have also been approved to prevent the flu.
These drugs are not a substitute for the influenza vaccine. They are mostoften used for flu prevention in institutions where people at high risk forflu complications are in close contact with each other, such as nursinghomes or hospitals. For example, during a flu outbreak in a nursing home,residents and staff might be given the flu vaccine and an antiviral drug toprevent the flu until the vaccine takes effect. (AAFP)