A Simple Way To Keep The Flu Away
You can avoid the flu this season by taking one simple step: Get a flu shot.
There are many reasons why people don’t get the flu vaccine – cost, time constraints, or they are concerned that a flu shot will make them sick or make them more likely to catch the flu.
The flu, also called seasonal influenza, is caused by one of several strains of influenza virus (type A or B) that infect the nose, throat and lungs. The flu makes life miserable for a week or two for many people, and is deadly for some.
Flu season can start as early as October and peak anywhere from late December to early April. This fall, by the end of September, Wisconsin had 19 cases of influenza and eight hospitalizations, which is earlier than usual.
“The single best way to prevent the flu is to get a flu vaccination each year,” according to Kimberly Mueller, Fond du Lac County Public Health officer. “It takes about two weeks after being vaccinated to develop enough antibodies to protect you against influenza virus. But remember, the influenza flu vaccine will not protect against food borne, flu-like illnesses caused by non-influenza viruses.”
Your best defense against the flu is to get vaccinated.
“A flu vaccine is recommended for everyone who is six months of age or older,” Mueller says. “Some people have risk factors that make influenza more serious and more likely to result in complications. Individuals who are at higher risk include: very young children, people over age 65, pregnant women, and people with chronic medical conditions like asthma, diabetes or heart disease.
“Anyone who has those risk factors or has frequent contact with someone in those risk groups needs to be vaccinated to avoid potential spreading influenza to them,” Mueller adds. “That’s why there is such a push to get all healthcare workers vaccinated against influenza. We need to protect our vulnerable patients.”
Even if you don’t fall into one of the above groups, you should still get the vaccine if you want to avoid the flu.
Some people shouldn’t be vaccinated for the flu before talking with their healthcare provider. These are reasons to talk with your healthcare provider:
- You have a severe allergy such as an anaphylactic reaction to chicken eggs.
- You had previously developed Guillain-Barré syndrome in the six weeks after getting a flu shot.
- You currently have an illness with a fever. Wait until symptoms improve before getting the vaccine.
Children younger than six months of age should not be vaccinated against the flu. Flu vaccines haven’t been approved for that age group.
There are steps you can take to prevent getting the flu.
“Flu viruses are spread by contact with droplets sneezed or coughed from an infected person,” says Kayla Ericksen, RN, BSN, Agnesian HealthCare infection preventionist. “Inhaling the droplets is the most common route to getting the flu. Touching objects on which droplets have landed also infects many people. You can spread the virus to others before you feel sick yourself. Individuals are contagious a day before symptoms start and up to five days afterward.”
Individuals can protect themselves against the flu by doing simple things like washing their hands before eating and not putting their hands near their face or in their mouth.
“Washing hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water works fine,” Ericksen explains. “If soap and water are not available, rub your hands with an alcohol-based hand cleaner. If someone in your family has the flu, you can help prevent it from spreading by cleaning surfaces with cleaners that specifically say ‘disinfectant’ on the label solution of one part bleach to 10 parts water.”
Before getting a flu vaccine, it’s good to have all the facts.
“Don’t believe the rumor that a flu shot can give you even a mild case of influenza,” Mueller stresses. “It’s impossible. The vaccine does not contain a form of the flu virus that can give you the flu. The injected form of the vaccine is made from pieces of dead flu virus cells. After receiving the vaccine, some people have mild flu-like symptoms. This is not the same thing as having the flu.”
When you get the flu vaccine, your body reacts and makes antibodies that provide immunity against the virus.
The main reason individuals should be revaccinated each year is that the flu virus is constantly changing and evolving into new strains. Each year, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) determines which flu strains are likely to be predominant. The CDC works with vaccine manufacturers to make the specific vaccine that will fight the predicted strains for that year.
If you are concerned about the cost of a flu vaccine or have further questions, contact the Fond du Lac County Public Health department at (920) 929-3085. Many insurers cover flu vaccines at no cost to their members.
In the photo: Kimberly Mueller (left), Fond du Lac County Public Health officer, gives a flu vaccination to Danielle Page.