By Ann Toole
Influenza, commonly known as the flu, is a respiratory condition that can cause serious complications, especially in young children, older adults, and people with certain medical conditions. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 115,000 people across the U.S. are hospitalized each year as a result of severe illness from the flu. Influenza is the ninth leading cause of death in the country. The good news is that there is something we can all do to keep our families and communities safer. The CDC recommends that everyone six months of age or older be vaccinated annually.
Since the flu virus changes each year, last year’s vaccine may not protect you against this year’s viruses. The flu vaccine has to be adapted each year to keep up with the ever-changing viruses. This year’s annual flu shot will offer protection against the H1N1 flu virus, in addition to two other influenza viruses that are expected this year. There is also a vaccine that offers protection against four strains of the virus.
The manufacturers of the flu vaccine have already begun shipping the vaccine for the 2016-17 influenza seasons. After receiving the vaccine, it takes up to two weeks for your immune system to produce antibodies that will protect you from the flu. If you are exposed to the influenza virus during this two-week window, you may be at risk of contracting the flu. Nevertheless, you can still benefit from the vaccine even if you don’t receive the vaccine until after the flu season begins.
Chronic medical conditions can increase your risk of influenza complications. Some of these complications include asthma, cancer or cancer treatments, diabetes, kidney or liver disease, and obesity.
If you are allergic to eggs or have had a severe reaction to a previous flu vaccine, you should consult with your physician before receiving the vaccine. Some flu vaccines are made from tiny amounts of egg proteins and may trigger a reaction to the vaccine. You may still be able to receive the vaccine, but you might be asked to take special precautions such as waiting in the physician’s office for at least 15 minutes after the vaccination to monitor for a reaction. If you have had a severe reaction to the flu vaccine, you should not receive the vaccine.
The injection is given in a muscle in the arm. Even though the vaccine can’t give you the flu — because is made of killed virus — you might develop flu-like symptoms such as muscle aches and fever after receiving the vaccine. Many other illnesses such as the common cold can produce flu-like symptoms that will make think you have the flu, when you actually don’t.
There are steps you can take to protect yourself against the influenza virus and other contagious viruses with or without a vaccine. Good hygiene is the primary defense against contagious illnesses. Wash your hands often and thoroughly with soap and water. Use an alcohol-based sanitizer on your hands if you don’t have access to soap and water. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth whenever possible. Avoid crowds when the flu is most prevalent in your area. Get plenty of sleep, exercise regularly, drink plenty of fluids, eat a nutritious diet, and manage your stress.
With an ounce of prevention, including a short visit to an area doctor’s office, clinic, health department, or pharmacy to receive a flu shot, you give yourself the greatest chance of coming through flu season healthy.
A note about the nasal spray flu vaccine: The CDC reports that the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends consumers receive a flu vaccine injection. “The nasal spray flu vaccine (live attenuated influenza vaccine or LAIV) should not be used during 2016-17.” According to the CDC, studies performed since 2013 show the nasal spray vaccine has a lower effectiveness, so they no longer recommend it. The nasal spray vaccine is still licensed and may be available at your treatment location, however.
About the author: Ann Toole is the director of nursing and informatics services at Advent Christian Village’s Copeland Medical Clinic. She has been employed at ACV since 1983. Ann holds both an RN and a BSN from Excelsior College.