As the days get shorter and cooler, the flu season gets stronger and uglier. The health care industry is acutely aware of this trend and begins to prepare for it well before the first reported cases. However, each year is a new adventure as the viruses that cause the flu are always changing and there is no predicting the length of the season.
Regardless of how long the flu season lasts, getting your flu shot is the number one way to protect yourself and your family from the flu. It can reduce missed school or work, doctor’s visits and hospitalizations related to the flu. Unfortunately, only around half the population gets vaccinated yearly, even as evidence of the benefits of the flu shot continue to pile up.
For the first time, a study recently published in Pediatrics illustrated that the flu vaccine can significantly reduce the risk of a child dying from influenza. After analyzing lab-confirmed flu pediatric deaths since 2004, the study concluded that most deaths occur in unvaccinated children. Last year the Centers for Disease Control published a study that concluded that the flu vaccine reduced the risk of flu-associated hospitalization by half in adults age 50 and older.
If you haven’t already seen these, there are a few new recommendations to be aware of this season:
• The nasal spray flu vaccine (LAIV) is not recommended for the 2017-2018 season.
• Only injectable flu shots are recommended.
• Pregnant women may receive any licensed, recommended, and age-appropriate flu vaccine.
Otherwise, most recommendations stay the same. A yearly flu vaccine for everyone six months of age and older is still the most important step in protecting against this serious disease. This is especially true for those over 65. Children between six months and eight years of age may need two doses of flu vaccine to be fully protected. Ask your doctor about the timing of such doses. People should begin getting vaccinated soon after flu vaccine becomes available to ensure that as many people as possible are protected.
If you are wondering when you should get the flu shot, the answer is now. The season typically runs October through May, with a peak in the season between December and February. Since it takes two weeks for the vaccine to protect the patient, time is running down to get it out of the way before December.
In addition, take everyday preventive actions:
1. Stay home when you are sick. If you or your child gets sick with flu-like illness, stay home for at least 24 hours after the fever is gone except for getting medical care or for other necessities. The fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.
2. Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
3. Cover your coughs and sneezes. Teach kids this early.
4. Wash your hands and avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
5. Frequently clean surfaces and objects.
6. Be prepared and informed.
As most know, even if you're vaccinated, you can still get the flu. If you were exposed prior to your shot, or came in contact with a virus not targeted by the vaccine, you may still show symptoms.
If you do get sick, there are treatments you can receive after the fact. Antiviral drugs can make your illness milder and make you feel better faster. They also can prevent serious flu-related complications, like pneumonia. Because people 65 and older are at high risk of serious flu complications, CDC recommends that they be treated for flu with antiviral medications as early as possible because these drugs work best when started early.
Prevention is still your best bet! This year, protect yourself and your loved ones. It only takes a few minutes.
-- If you need a flu shot, please contact one of our medical groups. You can reach them at the numbers below:
Blue Springs Internal Medicine, 816-228-9841
Family Medical Care Associates, 816-228-1000
Oak Grove Medical Clinic, 816-690-6566