Fighting the Flu

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It is nearly time for your annual flu shot and if you are trying to decide whether or not to get immunized read on. Besides the major inconvenience of missing a week or more of school or work serious complications, including death, can result from influenza.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services warns that influenza is a serious disease that kills thousands of people in the United States each year—from 20% to 50% of the population. Symptoms of influenza are fever, cough, chills, sore throat, headache, and muscle aches. Commonly referred to as the flu, influenza is often preventable with an annual vaccination.

Because the highly contagious viral illness changes each year, vaccinations are changed every year. Two weeks after getting a flu shot, people are protected for up to 1 year, with the exception of children 9 years of age and younger who are getting the flu shot for the first time; for them, a second shot is given after 1 month to ensure protection.

The best time to get a flu shot is in October when the vaccine first becomes available. The flu season lasts from November to April each year. Who should get the vaccine? Anyone who wants protection against influenza.

Consult your physician before getting a flu shot if you are allergic to chicken eggs, have had a bad reaction to a flu shot, suffer from Guillain-Barre Syndrome, have an acute illness or fever, or are pregnant. Even with all the benefits of getting flu shots many people don’t. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that each year in the U.S:

  • 35 to 50 million people are infected with influenza. 
  • More than 20,000 people die from pneumonia and other complications that may occur after infection with the flu virus. 
  • Over 100,00 people are hospitalized.

How do you know if you or a loved one is suffering from influenza or if your symptoms are the common cold? The table below offers some insight into this question.

web site table

Absent from the above table are nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. These are not symptoms of influenza. Food poisoning and gastrointestinal tract infections (both bacterial and viral) usually cause such symptoms that are incorrectly called stomach flu. Influenza is a respiratory tract infection.

The best defense against influenza is getting the flu shot. If you fail to become immunized and instead become infected, call your doctor at the first sign. There are some anti-influenza drugs available by prescription that may help if administered within the first 24 to 48 hours of influenza onset (see related article in this issue).

People usually get the flu in late fall and throughout the winter. The virus is spread by airborne particles through coughing and sneezing and with direct hand and face contact. Once infected it may take 2 to 4 days for symptoms to develop. A person is contagious for one week from the time infected. The infection can be spread before people even realize they have it, making quarantine-type epidemic precautions less than effective.

The most effective way of dealing with the flu is by getting an influenza shot as soon as they become available each year.

Sources: DHHS, NIH, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, CDCP, and the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists.



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