Believe it or not, the summer is coming to a close and the fall is approaching. As we enter the fall it is time to think about getting vaccinated against influenza.
Influenza is a common contagious respiratory illness that is most prevalent in the winter months and is associated with thousands of deaths yearly. Symptoms include fever, headache, sore throat, cough, muscle aches and upset stomach. Generally, outbreaks occur from October to May. It tends to be most severe in the very young and the elderly. Ninety percent of the deaths from influenza occur in those over 65 years old. Vaccines have been developed that can prevent the illness and outbreaks of influenza.
In addition to being vaccinated, careful hand washing, covering your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough, and avoiding direct contact with those who have flu symptoms can reduce the incidence of influenza.
Truthfully there isn’t much new to report on the flu vaccine from last year. As you remember, the flu shot is recommended for everyone over the age of 6 months, including pregnant women. Those recommendations remain the same for 2012.
The flu shot contains three strains of inactivated influenza viruses. The H1N1 strain, as last year, is included in the shot. The other two strains included this year are different based on predictions of what strains are most likely to be present. Even if you had a shot last year, it is recommended that you receive a booster this year.
Flu shots are being offered earlier than they were in the past. The best time to get the shot would be September or October, although November is not too late.
Children over nine years old are advised to have one vaccination. Children from six months to eight years of age who have not previously received seasonal flu shots are advised to have two shots at least four weeks apart in one year to initiate their flu shot vaccination regimen. If two doses have been given in this age group since 2010, then only one vaccine this year is advised. Also, if two shots have ever been given previously and one of them included the H1N1 strain, then one vaccine booster is adequate this year.
Another option to the shot is a nasal form of the vaccine. This contains live inactivated virus. This would be available to otherwise healthy non-pregnant individuals between the age of two and 49 years old. This vaccine may not be available at all sites.
The only contraindication to the flu shot is a prior severe allergic reaction to the vaccine. People with documented egg allergy should discuss the use of the vaccine with their health care provider. The nasal mist vaccine is a live virus and therefore is contraindicated in pregnant women and people with immune deficiency.
There is an adequate vaccine supply this year so there is no excuse not to get your vaccination. Even though you may be healthy and would recover from the flu if you had it, getting the shot can help prevent you from spreading the illness to babies and the elderly. Do your part to help prevent the flu, get vaccinated!
All CHN Medical Centers have the flu vaccine available, and can answer any questions you may have regarding this vaccine. Call the location nearest you to set up an appointment today.
By: P. Michael Shattuck, MD, CHN Family Physician