Seasonal Flu (Influenza)
December 4-10 was National Influenza Vaccination Week. If you haven’t gotten your flu vaccine yet, now’s the time! An annual flu vaccine is the single best way to protect against the flu.
Flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat and lungs. These viruses can cause mild and severe illnesses, and all degrees in between. The best way to prevent getting the Flu is to take a Flu vaccination each year. Older people, young children, and some people with chronic diseases have a higher risk of getting serious Flu complications.
Key Symptoms of the Flu
fever, headache, fatigue (very tired), dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle aches.
Flu Complications Include
bacterial pneumonia, dehydration,ear infections, sinus infections, certain chronic medical conditions getting worse such as congestive heart failure, asthma and diabetes.
How the Flu Spreads
Most experts believe that flu viruses spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby. Less often, a person might also get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth, eyes or possibly their nose.
Preventing the Flu
The single best way to prevent seasonal flu is to get vaccinated each year, before the start of the flu season. Other important measures include good health habits like:
- covering your cough and
- washing your hands
Both of these practice can often help stop the spread of germs and prevent respiratory illnesses like the flu. There also are flu antiviral drugs that can be used to treat and prevent the flu.
Although vaccinations are generally thought of as something for young children, it is very important that adults over 60 years of age and individuals with damaged immune systems also receive influenza vaccine. Doing so can save many lives. While young children with influenza (or “flu”) have the highest hospitalization rates, adults 65 and older have the highest death or mortality rates from it.
Who Should Receive an Annual Flu Vaccine
Because of the serious shortage of flu vaccine this year, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that individuals in the following groups receive influenza vaccine first:
- Anyone (including school-aged children) who wants influenza vaccine to lower their risk of getting flu, or giving it to others,
- All children from age 6 months until their 5th birthday,
- Adults from age 50 years and older,
- All persons age 5 to 49 who have chronic (continuous) medical conditions,
- All women who will be pregnant during the flu season (at any stage of pregnancy)
- Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities,
- Children on chronic aspirin therapy who are 6 months-18 years of age,
- All health-care workers,
- Out-of-home caregivers, and
- Household contacts of high risk persons including children.
Note: When children less than 9 years of age received only one dose of flu vaccine in their first flu season, they should get 2 doses of flu vaccine in the second flu season.
Nasal-Spray Vaccine or LAIV
Nasal-Spray Vaccine or LAIV (Live Attenuated Influenza Vaccine), was licensed in 2003. Its use is now approved for persons 2 to 49 years of age. Nasal spray vaccine should not be used in the following situations:
- In children who have a history of Asthma or recurrent wheezing
- Children younger than 2 years of age
- In pregnant women
- In people with chronic medical conditions like chronic heart and lung disease, asthma, diabetes, kidney failure or conditions with a weekend immune system.
- In children or adolescents who are receiving aspirin therapy
- In people with allergy to eggs or other components of the nasal spray
- People who have taken influenza antiviral drugs within the previous 48 hours
Because of the overlapping recommendations between not using the nasal spray and not taking the flu vaccine at all, it is very important that the list for not using nasal spray above and the list below for not taking the flu vaccine be carefully reviewed.
Who Should Not Get Flu Vaccine
- People with a history of allergy to eggs
- People with a history of Guillain-Barre’ syndrome
- People who have had a severe reaction to a flu vaccine in the past,
- Flu vaccine is not approved for use in children less than 6 months of age,
- People who have a moderate or severe illness with a fever should wait to get vaccinated until their symptoms decrease a lot and they get a medical check-up.
Pneumonia and Pneumonia Vaccine
More than 200,000 cases of pneumococcal pneumonia occur each year in the United States, and approximately 40,000 Americans die from pneumonia every year. Pneumonia is due to infection with pneumococcal (pronounced “new-mo-kok-al”) bacteria (germs). More than one-half of these deaths are preventable through vaccination. Deaths from pneumonia related to pneumococcal infection occur most often after age 70. However, pneumonia vaccine is recommended for all persons 65 years of age or above. It is important to know that adults may receive influenza vaccine and pneumococcal vaccine at the same time, in different locations of the body. In addition, children may receive influenza vaccine along with other routine childhood vaccinations.
The pneumonia vaccine can protect people from preumococcal infection. That’s important because the germ responsible for pneumococcal infection can attack different parts of the body. It often infects the lungs, causing pneumonia. However, it can also invade the blood stream (bacteremia). If it reaches the brain, it can cause meningitis. All of these are serious infections.
Who is at Higher Risk for Pneumococcal Pneumonia
While anybody can catch pneumococcal pneumonia, the following persons should be concerned about possibly getting pneumonia, because they have a higher risk of getting it.
- People age 65 years or older;
- Residents of nursing homes or other long-term care facilities who are age 50 or older;
- People with chronic heart or lung disease, diabetes mellitus, or absence of the spleen (age 2 or older).
- People over age two years of age with health problems like diabetes, sickle cell disease, alcoholism, or HIV/AIDS
- Persons over two years of age who are taking any treatments that weaken the body’s immune system
- Alaska Natives and some Native American populations
The Best Way to Prevent Pneumococcal Pneumonia
For most people, all they need is one shot. Getting the pneumonia vaccine can protect you against the germ that causes pneumococcal pneumonia and the other pneumococcal diseases.
The pneumonia vaccine is recommended for everyone age 65 and older. People who are at higher risk for the disease should also be vaccinated. Therefore, study the Higher Risk list above, because people in those groups should also be vaccinated.
While the one pneumonia vaccine will last most people a lifetime, those who have a weak immune system (like after an organ or bone marrow transplant, or with kidney disease, HIV/AIDS, chronic kidney failure, leukemia, and some other conditions) may need to receive periodic booster shots. People with weak immune systems should consult their doctor before getting Pneumonia vaccine.
Some people have mild side effects from the pneumonia vaccine (redness, swelling, or pain at the site of the injection), but these are usually minor and last for only a very short time. Fever, muscle-ache, and more serious pain or swelling on the arm has been reported in less than 1% of people who get the shot. Remember, though, the pneumonia vaccine is often a lifesaver!
For more information about adult immunization against influenza and pneumococcal pneumonia, visit the CDC web site at www.cdc.gov/flu. CDC can also be reached through Health Power’s Relevant Resource Table. Other good sources for such information, and for getting vaccinated, are state and local health departments.
For information on childhood vaccination, visit Health Power’s Parent Channel. Information on all childhood vaccination requirements can be obtained from CDC’s National Immunization Program (NIP), Tel (English) 800/232-2522; Tel (Spanish) 800/232-0233
Remember the Health Power motto: Knowledge + Action = Power!