Flu season is upon us. This year, like any other, we need be concerned about the to-be-determined prevalent strain of "seasonal flu." We are all best advised by adhering to the excellent advice offered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), from which this information is obtained. For the sake of brevity, here is an overview of a few very important approaches to preventing the spread of influenza virus (germs): proper hygiene and immunization.
- When you cough or sneeze, cover your nose and mouth with a tissue (preferred) or your hand. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it. Wash your hands with soap and water.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub ("gel"). Try to avoid sharing towels to dry your hands — use an air dryer or disposable paper towels.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
- Avoid close contact with sick persons.
- If you are sick with a flu-like illness, the CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone, except to obtain medical care or for other true necessities. Your fever is gone when your body temperature is normal without the use of fever-lowering drugs, such as acetaminophen.
- While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible.
- Follow public health advice regarding school closures, avoiding crowds and other measures to keep your distance from potentially infected persons.
Immunization (flu vaccine)
From personal and public health perspectives, the CDC-recommended vaccination programs are the first and most important steps in protecting against influenza. While there are many different flu viruses, the "seasonal flu vaccine" protects against the three viruses that research suggests will be most common for this particular season. Each seasonal influenza vaccine contains three influenza viruses: one A (H3N2) virus, one regular seasonal A virus, and one B virus.
Vaccination is especially important for persons at high risk of serious complications from the flu: young children, pregnant women, persons with chronic health conditions (like asthma, diabetes or heart and lung disease) and persons 65 years of age and older.
Seasonal flu vaccine also is important for health care workers, and other persons who live with or care for high risk persons.
The single best way to protect against the flu is to get vaccinated each year.
There are two types of seasonal flu vaccines:
- The "flu shot" is an inactivated vaccine (containing killed virus) that is given with a needle, usually in the arm. The flu shot is approved for use in persons older than 6 months, including healthy persons and persons with chronic medical conditions.
- The nasal-spray flu vaccine is a vaccine made with live, weakened flu viruses that do not cause the flu (sometimes called LAIV for "live attenuated influenza vaccine" or FluMist®). LAIV (FluMist®) is approved for use in healthy persons 2 to 49 years of age who are not pregnant.
Approximately 2 weeks after vaccination, antibodies that provide protection against influenza virus infection develop in the body.
When to Get Vaccinated
Yearly flu vaccination should begin in September or as soon as vaccine is available and continue throughout the influenza season, into December, January and beyond. This is because the timing and duration of influenza seasons vary. While influenza outbreaks can happen as early as October, most of the time, influenza activity peaks in January or later.
Who Should Not Be Vaccinated
There are some persons who should not receive get a flu vaccination without first consulting a physician. These include:
- Persons who have a severe allergy to chicken eggs.
- Persons who have had a severe reaction to an influenza vaccination.
- Persons who developed Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS) within 6 weeks of receiving an influenza vaccination.
- Children less than 6 months of age (influenza vaccine is not approved for this age group), and
- Persons who have a moderate-to-severe illness with a fever (they should wait until they recover to get vaccinated.)