Your best weapon: an annual flu shot
By Brian Bailey, RN, BSN, CIC
The flu season begins each year around September or October, so there's no time like the present to get your annual flu shot to protect yourself and loved ones.
Each year, the flu vaccine is developed to provide immunity to the flu viruses that are most prevalent and likely to cause illness, identified by health experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other leading organizations.
Three flu strains are included in year's single-vaccination formula to offer maximum immunity to circulating flu viruses. The 2013-2014 seasonal influenza formula protects against:
Remember, even if the flu viruses included in an upcoming season are the same as those included the prior year, it's important to get vaccinated every year because a person's immunity to flu viruses declines over time. Also, the virus can undergo minor mutations from one year to the next. The annual vaccination is necessary to provide maximum immunity to the current strain of virus.
The flu is an unpredictable illness, with potentially life-threatening complications. Over the past 30 years, flu-related deaths in the United States have ranged from a low of 3,300 to a high of 49,000 people annually depending on the strain circulating in a particular season, according to the CDC. The H1N1 pandemic flu in 2009 (also known as the swine flu) resulted in more than 12,000 flu-related deaths in the United States - in addition to those citizens who suffered serious health complications or died from the seasonal flu. Up to 20 percent of Americans get the flu each year, and approximately 200,000 people are hospitalized due to flu, according to the American Academy of Family Practitioners.
Is it the flu?
Flu symptoms usually appear suddenly and can include:
The flu vaccine is recommended for all healthy people over 6 months of age. Individuals at the highest risk for flu complications include seniors over age 65, young children, pregnant women and people with chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes, or heart disease. Some people should not be vaccinated without first talking to their doctor. If you have a severe allergy to eggs, have had a severe reaction to a past flu vaccination, or are currently sick with a fever, discuss the benefits and risks of the flu vaccine with your doctor.
You may have heard friends or family debate the effectiveness of a flu shot in preventing the flu or minimizing its symptoms. And, there's still the popular misconception that the flu shot may actually cause the flu.
The most important thing to remember is that after receiving a flu shot, it will take approximately two weeks to develop immunity. So if someone was exposed to the flu before vaccination, or is exposed to a flu-like illness, he or she may still get sick - hence the myth that the flu shot can "cause the flu." Some people may still get the flu after receiving a flu shot, but if this happens, it is usually a milder case with fewer complications.
Health experts recommend that people schedule their annual flu vaccination beginning in September, or as soon as vaccine is available. However, it's never too late to reap the benefits of a flu shot, even if it's not administered until later in the flu season. Generally, the flu season "peaks" around January of each year, and lasts until late spring.
A drive-thru vaccination clinic will be held at Three Rivers Medical Center on Thursday, September 26th from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. at the front entrance of the hospital.
Sources: Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, www.cdc.gov, American Academy of Family Practitioners, www.familydoctor.org
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