Meigs Health Matters: The flu shot

The Flu Shot: The first and most important step in protecting against influenza

By Leanne Cunningham - Special to the Times-Sentinel

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How are you going to help prevent yourself from getting the flu this year? The first and most important step in preventing flu is to get a flu vaccination each year.

While it is possible to get sick with flu even if you have been vaccinated (although you won’t know for sure unless you get a flu test), the CDC cites a few reasons this is possible:

1. “You may be exposed to a flu virus shortly before getting vaccinated or during the period that it takes the body to gain protection after getting vaccinated. This exposure may result in you becoming ill with flu before the vaccine begins to protect you. (Antibodies that provide protection develop in the body about 2 weeks after vaccination.)

2. You may be exposed to a flu virus that is not included in the seasonal flu vaccine. There are many different flu viruses that circulate every year. A flu vaccine is made to protect against the three or four flu viruses that research suggests will be most common.

3. Unfortunately, some people can become infected with a flu virus a flu vaccine is designed to protect against, despite getting vaccinated. Protection provided by flu vaccination can vary widely, based in part on health and age factors of the person getting vaccinated. In general, a flu vaccine works best among healthy younger adults and older children. Some older people and people with certain chronic illnesses may develop less immunity after vaccination. Flu vaccination is not a perfect tool, but it is the best way to protect against flu infection.

Other preventive measures, recommended by the CDC, include staying away from people who are sick, covering coughs and sneezes and frequent hand-washing to help slow the spread of germs that cause respiratory (nose, throat, and lungs) illnesses.

So, what is the flu? It is a contagious respiratory illness, believed to be spread by droplets from coughing, sneezing or talking, which can land in the mouths or noses of nearby people. It is caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and lungs and may also be spread by touching something that has the flu virus on it and then touching one’s own mouth, eye or nose. Signs and symptoms include: fever or feeling feverish/chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, fatigue and sometimes, vomiting and diarrhea, although this is more common in children than adults. It is important to note that not everyone with the flu will have a fever.

You may ask who should get vaccinated, and the answer is EVERYONE who is of age to get the vaccine, as long as it is not contraindicated for you as stated by your physician/medical provider. You may be the only protection some age groups have to help them from getting the flu. For example, infants do not qualify for a flu shot until they turn 6 months of age. Per the CDC, some children 6 months through 8 years of age will require two doses of flu vaccine for adequate protection from flu. Children in this age group who are getting vaccinated for the first time will need two doses of flu vaccine, spaced at least 4 weeks apart. Children who have only received one dose in their lifetime also need two doses.

Additionally, children who need two doses of vaccine to be protected should start the vaccination process sooner, because the two doses must be given at least four weeks apart. Your child’s doctor or other health care professional can tell you if your child needs two doses of flu vaccine.

Also, in the past, those with egg allergies could not receive a flu shot; however, egg allergy is now no longer a reason to avoid the flu shot.

The CDC cites the following about the flu vaccine and egg allergy: 1. “People who have experienced only hives after exposure to egg can get any licensed flu vaccine that is otherwise appropriate for their age and health. 2. People who have symptoms other than hives after exposure to eggs, such as angioedema, respiratory distress, lightheadedness, or recurrent emesis; or who have needed epinephrine or another emergency medical intervention, can also get any licensed flu vaccine that is otherwise appropriate for their age and health, but the vaccine should be given in a medical setting and be supervised by a health care provider who is able to recognize and manage severe allergic conditions. (Settings include hospitals, clinics, health departments, and physician offices). People with egg allergies no longer have to wait 30 minutes after receiving their vaccine.”

While the flu virus circulates year round and the number of people who are infected begins to rise in October, the peak of flu season usually occurs between December and February in the US and may last until May. The CDC estimates that somewhere between 9.2 million and 35.6 million people get the flu each year. The flu can range from mild to quite severe, and death is more common in the very young, the elderly and individuals with compromised immune systems, and once a person is exposed to the flu virus, he may develop symptoms anywhere from 1 to 4 days later, with the average being 2 days. You can actually spread the flu virus to someone else a day before you even know that you are sick and up to 5 to 7 days after you know you are sick.

If, unfortunately, you do find yourself developing flu symptoms, try not to panic. Most people with flu have mild illness and do not need medical care or antiviral drugs and will recover in a few days to less than two weeks. If you get sick with flu symptoms, in most cases, you should stay home and avoid contact with other people except to get medical care. If, however, you have symptoms of flu and are at high risk of flu complications, or are very sick or concerned about your illness, contact your health care provider. There are drugs your doctor may prescribe for treating flu called antivirals. These drugs can make you better faster and may also prevent serious complications. Following flu infection, moderate complications such as secondary ear and sinus infections can occur. Pneumonia is a serious flu complication that can result from either influenza virus infection alone or from co-infection of flu virus and bacteria. Other possible serious complications triggered by flu can include inflammation of the heart (myocarditis), brain (encephalitis) or muscle (myositis, rhabdomyolysis) tissues, and multi-organ failure (for example, respiratory and kidney failure). Severe complications can happen to anyone, but may be more likely to happen to people who have certain chronic medical conditions, or in elderly persons.

The Meigs County Health Department wants you to stay well this flu season. To protect you and our community from the flu and a possible flu outbreak, we offer the flu vaccine to those aged 6 months through adulthood.

This year, we are not only offering this protection, but we are also again practicing for a much bigger potential emergency situation by hosting our Second Annual Drive-Thru Flu Shot Clinic on Oct. 6 from 9 a.m. to noon at the Meigs County Fairgrounds. Events such as this serve as an “exercise” to help us with our emergency preparedness plan and practice an effective manner of vaccinating a large amount of people in a short time period. We hope you will join us in this endeavor.

If you cannot join us on Oct. 6, we will begin administration of flu shots at the MCHD on Monday, Oct. 1 between 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Please bring your insurance or medical card with you to the clinic. The patient is responsible for any portion that is not covered by insurance. The cost for a private pay flu shot is $30 for those under age 65 and $50 for those aged 65+. We do have a very limited number of flu shots available for those with no insurance coverage, and they will be given first come, first served. Please contact us at 740-992-6626 if you have any questions.

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The Flu Shot: The first and most important step in protecting against influenza

By Leanne Cunningham

Special to the Times-Sentinel

Leanne Cunningham, RN, BSN, CLC, is the Director of Nursing at the Meigs County Health Department.

Leanne Cunningham, RN, BSN, CLC, is the Director of Nursing at the Meigs County Health Department.