For those of you who have managed to put off getting a flu shot until now, you're likely asking yourself a few questions. I'm writing this to you in hopes of pushing you toward some good answers. Questions like: I've made it this far into the season without a flu shot and I haven't gotten the flu. Why bother now? Answer: Your luck could very easily run out. We're just getting into the height of the influenza (flu) season. Missouri was among 20 states reporting high activity levels of flu cases during the last week of 2013 according to the Centers for Disease Control and we're definitely seeing an uptick at St. Mary's Medical Center. Question: I've already had the flu this season. Why should I get one now? Answer: Because there are several strains of the influenza virus, you could still become sick. We are currently seeing a spike in primarily the influenza A virus at St. Mary's Medical Center, but that can often shift mid-season to influenza B - and there is still the threat of H1N1 lurking about. According to the CDC, 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. Question: I hear it takes a lot of time to become effective. Is getting one now a waste of time? Answer: If you can take the nasal vaccine, your immunity is immediate. This is for healthy people 2 to 49 years of age who are not pregnant. If you're going the injection route, it takes about a week or two after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body that protect against influenza virus infection. While it is best to get vaccinated early to protect before influenza begins spreading in their community, you can still get some benefit from getting it now. Even if you get the flu, it will most likely be less severe if you're vaccinated. Question: I have a cold for some time now. Do I have to wait until it goes away to get a shot? Answer: People who have a moderate-to-severe illness with or without a fever should wait until they recover to get vaccinated. Typically, once you've gotten well and have gone 24 hours without illness or fever, you're good to go. There are some who should not get vaccinated – children under the age of six months and those with a history of Guillain-Barré Syndrome (a severe paralytic illness, also called GBS). Finally, some good practices even after you get vaccinated to help avoid becoming ill: • Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too. • Stay home when you are sick. You will help prevent others from catching your illness. • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. It may prevent those around you from getting sick. • Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub. • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth. • Practice other good health habits. Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work or school, especially when someone is ill. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food. Last, but not least consider getting your Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis) immunization updated. Tetanus and diphtheria have dropped by about 99 percent and pertussis (whooping cough) by about 80 percent since vaccinations for these diseases were adopted. They can be given safely with your flu shot.
Kaely Mayden, RN, is an infection control specialist at St. Mary’s Medical Center in Blue Springs.