SEASON ON THE HORIZON... GET YOUR FLU SHOTS NOW!
Anyone who has ever had an encounter with one of the particularly nasty
strains of influenza probably won’t have to be reminded to get their flu
shot this fall. Just mention the word “flu,” and they’ll share
their “war stories” about battles with the “Asian” or “Hong-Kong”
strains. The rest of us, however, may need some gentle prodding.
What many people casually dismiss as a minor -- albeit inconvenient
-- ailment, is actually the sixth leading cause of death in this country,
claiming an average of 20,000 lives each year. Influenza, or the
“flu,” visits the U.S. between November and April, with the most widespread
outbreaks beginning in late December. About 90 million cases of the
flu are reported here each year.
The flu virus is spread by droplets sent airborne by an infected person’s
sneezes and coughs. The germs are just waiting in the air, on surfaces
-- and on the hands that touch them. The first to “share” the
virus are usually school children who bring the “gift” home to their families.
Kids are easily infected because they have had little experience with the
flu in the past, and their immune systems are not fully developed.
They are in close contact with other youngsters in closed classrooms, which
make ideal breeding grounds for the viruses because children are notorious
for not washing their hands or covering their mouths when they sneeze or
So, how do you know if you have the flu? This is not as simple
a question as it seems. There are many different kinds of “flu” which
are all caused by some virus but the secret is to figure out which of
the three groups of viruses is responsible for this particular misery.
The symptoms range in severity, and can mimic those of the common cold
and other respiratory infections. Most flu sufferers complain of
a cough, stuffy nose, fever (higher in children), a sore throat, headaches,
and often muscle aches and fatigue. A cold may go away in several
days to a week, but the flu can linger on for up to two weeks. Unfortunately,
for people in the high risk category, symptoms can worsen and develop into
potentially life-threatening medical emergencies.
Each year, 9-10 months in advance of “flu season,” the U.S. Food and
Drug Administration’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory
Committee predicts which of three types of influenza viruses are most likely
to occur, and then instructs that the appropriate vaccine be developed
to combat it. (For more in-depth information about the types of viruses
and the history of flu outbreaks, visit the
for Disease Control’s site )
According to cardiologist Juan R. Amell, M.D., founder and medical director
of Red Oak Cardiovascular Center, “We advise everyone 65 and older to get
a flu shot each year. It is especially important that people with
heart disease and those who have pulmonary diseases (including asthma),
diabetes, or any problem with their immune system have the vaccination.
The flu is extremely contagious and a loving hug or a kiss from a grandchild
can innocently spread the disease. Although the flu may pose little threat
to an otherwise healthy child -- or even to his or her parents -- respiratory
complications for older adults with these chronic illnesses can be potentially
life-threatening. This same group of patients should also be given the
Pneumococcal vaccine to protect against pneumonia and certain blood infections
caused by the pneumococcal bacteria. ”
In addition to seniors and heart patients, others considered at high
risk who should receive flu shots include babies under six months of age,
older adults who live in nursing homes or assisted living facilities, health
care workers, educators, everyone with asthma, and women who will be in
their second or third trimester of pregnancy when flu season hits.
Anyone who wants to minimize their chances for getting the flu this season
should also get the vaccine.
Since it takes one to two weeks after the vaccination for the antibody
to develop, the best time to get this protection is during October through
mid-November when people are usually relatively healthy and have not yet
been exposed to the flu. When a person gets the injection late in
the season, it is possible that they have already been exposed to the ailment.
“When someone who has had the flu shot and still gets sick,” explained
Dr. Amell, “it is possible that they have already been exposed to the flu.
If a person gets sick a few days after getting the shot, they think this
is a reaction to the vaccination. Actually, less than one percent
of the people to take the shot have any reaction to it at all.”
There is no cure for the flu, but there are certainly a lot of common
sense things families can do to minimize their risk of infection or spreading
the flu to other family members. Anyone with flu-like symptoms should
have their own eating utensils, washcloths and towels, they should stay
in bed away from other family members, get plenty of rest, and drink a
lot of fluids. If the symptoms persist after four or five days --
especially if the fever continues -- see a physician.
It is important to remember that children should not be given aspirin
when they have the flu because studies have linked its use to the development
of Reye’s syndrome in youngsters recovering from the virus.
Colds and flu generally flourish during winter months because people
stay indoors more and there is less ventilation. The immune system
may also be less effective during the colder months when people exercise
less and tend to eat fewer fresh fruits and vegetables.
Dr. Amell says there is no better time than during the winter months
to emphasize the importance of regular hand washing and keeping young fingers
away from their faces, and to use a disinfectant to wipe off kitchen and
bathroom surfaces to kill unwanted germs.