By Denise Simpson, Rutland Regional Health Services
Influenza (the flu) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. The flu viruses spread mainly from person to person through coughs and sneezes. People might also get the flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth, eyes or possibly their nose. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. Some people—such as older people, young children, and people with certain health conditions—are at high risk for serious flu complications.
This year’s annual flu shot will offer protection against H1N1 flu (swine flu) virus, in addition to two other influenza viruses that are expected to be in circulation this flu season. A vaccine that protects against four strains of the virus will also be available, as will a high-dose flu vaccine for adults age 65 and older.
Here are the answers to common questions about flu shots:
Q: What should I do to prepare for this flu season?
A: Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends a yearly flu vaccine for everyone six months old or older as the first and most important step in protecting against this serious disease. In addition to getting vaccinated, you can take preventive measures like staying away from sick people and washing your hands to reduce the spread of germs. If you are sick with flu, stay home from work or school to prevent spreading flu to others.
Q: Where can I get a flu vaccine?
A: Flu vaccines are offered by many doctor’s offices, clinics, health departments, pharmacies and college health centers, as well as by many employers.
Q: Can the flu vaccine give me the flu?
A: No, a flu vaccine cannot cause flu illness. While a flu vaccine cannot give you flu illness, there are different side effects that may be associated with getting a flu shot or a nasal spray flu vaccine. These side effects are mild and short-lasting, especially when compared to symptoms of influenza. On rare occasions, flu vaccination can cause serious problems, such as severe allergic reactions.
Q: Can I get vaccinated and still get the flu?
A: Yes. It’s possible to get sick with the flu even if you have been vaccinated. This is possible for the following reasons. You may be exposed to a flu virus before getting vaccinated or during the period that it takes the body to gain protection after getting vaccinated. You may be exposed to a flu virus that is not included in the seasonal flu vaccine. Unfortunately, some people can become infected with a flu virus that the flu vaccine is designed to protect against, despite getting vaccinated. Flu vaccination is not a perfect tool, but it is the best way to protect against flu infection.
Q: Is there treatment for the flu?
A: Yes. If you get sick, there are drugs that can treat flu illness. They can make your illness milder and make you feel better faster. They also can prevent serious flu-related complications, like pneumonia.
Q: How do I know if I have seasonal influenza or Ebola?
A: Seasonal influenza and Ebola virus infection can cause some similar symptoms. However, your symptoms are most likely caused by seasonal influenza. Influenza is very common. Millions of people are infected and thousands die from flu each year. In the United States, infections with Ebola virus are very rare. There is widespread transmission of Ebola virus disease in West Africa, so people who have traveled to an Ebola infected area or have been in contact with someone infected with the Ebola virus, will be evaluated for Ebola if they develop flu-like symptoms.
Q: Who should get the flu vaccine?
A: The CDC recommends annual influenza vaccinations for everyone age 6 months or older.
Q: Who shouldn’t get a flu shot?
A: Check with your doctor before receiving a flu vaccine if you’re allergic to eggs or if you had a severe reaction to a previous flu vaccine.
Q: What are the benefits of flu vaccination?
A: Flu vaccination can keep you from getting sick from flu. Protecting yourself from flu also protects the people around you, such as older adults, people with chronic health conditions and young children (especially infants younger than 6 months old who are too young to get vaccinated). Vaccination also may make your illness milder if you do get sick.
Vaccination can reduce the risk of more serious flu outcomes, like hospitalizations and deaths. Recent studies have shown that flu vaccine reduced children’s risk of flu-related pediatric intensive care unit admission and was associated with a major reduction in flu-related hospitalizations among adults, including reduced hospitalizations among people with diabetes and chronic lung disease. Flu vaccination has also been associated with lower rates of some cardiac events among people with heart disease, especially among those who had had a cardiac event in the past year. Finally, vaccination helps protect women during pregnancy and their babies for up to six months after they are born.
For more information on influenza, please visitwww.RRMC.org/Healthinfo.