Time for a flu shot
It's flu season again, which means it's time to make sure that you and your loved ones get your annual flu vaccinations. Each year, there are different strains of the influenza virus that spread through communities, and this year's vaccine is intended to target the most wide-spread and contagious forms. While some vaccines last for years, or even for a lifetime, the flu vaccine must be administered every year in order to offer protection to adults and children alike.
Influenza is caused by viruses that attack the respiratory system, and causes symptoms that range from mild to severe, sometimes even causing death. Some of the most common flu symptoms are fever, headache and body ache, sore throat, runny nose, cough, and fatigue. Sometimes, flu can cause nausea and vomiting; this symptom is most common in young children.
Flu is highly contagious, and is mostly spread through the air through coughing, sneezing, and even talking. In addition to being spread through airborne transmission, flu can also be passed via infected surfaces. For this reason, it is crucial to wash your hands regularly and to keep them away from your eyes, nose, and mouth so as not to become infected or to infect others. If you do happen to come down with the flu, it is best to stay home and limit your contact with other people until you feel better so that you do not spread your illness to others.
Most people will be able to recover from the flu within a couple of weeks; however, every year many people in America die from the flu. During the 2018-19 season the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 79,000 deaths in America were caused by flu. There are people who are at particular risk from complications that may not be able to recover as quickly or as fully. People at high risk of developing flu related complications include people who are 65 and older, children younger than 5 and especially those under 2, pregnant and new mothers, people with weakened immune systems due to disease, and people with other chronic conditions, such as asthma or diabetes. These people are at higher risk for complications such as pneumonia, inflammation of the heart, brain, or muscle tissues, and even multi-organ failure.
Symptoms to watch out for in people who are at risk for flu complications include:
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Persistent pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
- Persistent dizziness, confusion, inability to arouse
- Dehydration (lack of urination)
- Persistent high fever (or any fever in young children under 6 months old)
- Severe muscle pain
- Severe weakness or unsteadiness
- Fever or cough that improve but then return or worsen
Everyone aged 65 year and older is considered high risk for flu complications and needs vaccination protection, it is also important that younger healthy people are vaccinated. This young healthy population is more likely to get a milder case of the flu during which they continue to go to work or school and spread the disease more widely, putting our other community members at risk of serious disease.
Which vaccine should you get? The last few years "high dose trivalent" flu vaccine has started to be offered to people 65 years of age and older. High dose vaccine has 4 times the amount of active ingredient as regular vaccine. Research shows that the high dose vaccine offers moderately more protection against serious flu complications than the regular dose, and that this can be especially important in those 85 years of age and older. It does come with a higher risk of irritation at the site of vaccination. For those in the age groups mentioned, the high dose vaccine can be a good choice, but if it is not available to you, do not hesitate to use the regular vaccine. Do not leave yourself unprotected.
By vaccinating early and observing simple hand-washing and basic hygiene in public, you can make sure that you and your loved ones avoid the flu and its complications this season.
Dr. Denise Paasche is the president of the BMH Medical Staff and is a board-certified family practitioner with Maplewood Family Practice, a member of the Brattleboro Memorial Hospital Medical Group. She can be reached at 802-254-1311.
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