(10/17/11) – Influenza (the flu) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. The flu season in the United States occurs in the fall and winter months and ends by early spring. Symptoms of the flu can include fever or feeling feverish/chills, cough, sore throat, runny nose, muscle or body aches, headache, fatigue, and sometimes nausea and diarrhea. Complications from illness with influenza can include pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus and ear infections, and can make any chronic health problems worse.
Receiving the flu vaccine is the first and most important step in preventing the flu and decreasing the risk of severe flu-related illness. Each year in the United States, over 200,000 people are hospitalized due to complications from the flu, and roughly 36,000 people die from the flu and its related complications.
The people who are at the greatest risk of getting the flu include the young and the elderly, pregnant women, people with chronic health conditions such as asthma, diabetes, and heart disease, and people with chronic lung conditions.
Getting an annual influenza vaccine is important because a person’s immune protection from influenza vaccination declines over time. The current recommendations have been simplified: everyone 6 months of age and older should receive the influenza vaccine. There are a few reasons to discuss with your doctor whether or not to get the vaccine; one of which is if you have a severe or life threatening reaction to consumption of eggs. If the reaction only causes hives, you still can get vaccinated as long as you are observed for 30 minutes after being given the shot by a qualified health care provider.
Also, those who have had a severe allergy to a vaccine component, or have ever had Guillain-Barre’ Syndrome, should consider the pros and cons of the flu vaccine prior to receiving it.
In addition to vaccination, there are other ways to decrease the risk of getting the flu. Washing your hands with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer several times a day is very effective in decreasing the spread of the virus and contracting it as well. Also, try not to share drinks or food with others, especially if they appear ill.
Finally, the influenza viruses contained in a flu shot are inactivated (killed), which means that they cannot cause infection. So, NO, the flu shot cannot give someone the flu. However, you can have some soreness at the injection site that might last a few days. Also, people are exposed to lots of other viruses in the wintertime besides the flu viruses, so it is possible to get sick with a "flu-like" illness, even though you received a flu shot.
Dr. Timothy Spence cares for patients at McLeod Pediatric Associates of Florence and is currently accepting new patients. For more information, or to make an appointment, please call (843) 777 – 5065.