The influenza season begins in October, peaks in January and continues through May. Vaccination is considered the best way to prevent contracting influenza.
The two types of vaccines being given currently are the FLU shot and the nasal spray. The FLU shot is an inactivated or killed vaccine which can be given to those 6 months and older who may be healthy or those with chronic medical conditions. The nasal spray vaccine is a live, though weakened influenza virus vaccine given only to those who are healthy, not pregnant and between the ages of 2 years to 49 years of age. An important question asked by most people before deciding to get the vaccine is "Can the FLU shot make me sick?" The FLU shot is killed or inactivated so you can't get the FLU from the shot. There may be mild side effects such as soreness or redness where the shot was given, mild fever and body aches. The nasal spray contains a weakened, live virus and does not cause the severe symptoms usually associated with influenza. It may however, result in minor side effects such as congestion, headache, sore throat and body aches.
The influenza virus is a very contagious airborne virus which enters the body through the eyes, nose or mouth. The virus becomes airborne when an infected person sneezes or coughs and may be inhaled by those in the near vicinity. Infection can also occur by touching a contaminated surface such as a door knob, telephone or toy and subsequently touching the nose or mouth. It is important to be familiar with the symptoms of influenza because the outcome is drastically improved if diagnosed early. Influenza is typically characterized by the rather quick onset of high fever, severe body aches, chills, tiredness, headaches and a dry, nonproductive cough. Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea may also occur and are more common in children.
There are certain groups of the population who are at risk for the development of more severe complications of influenza and include adults and children with asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart disease, kidney disease, diabetes, anemia and those with poor immune systems. Children have the highest rates of infection and are more susceptible to developing severe complications such as pneumonia, ear and sinus infections, swelling of the brain and seizures. The older population experiences the highest rate of deaths as a result of influenza and pneumonia.
The CDC recommends that the following groups receive the FLU vaccine every year:
- Children 6 months-18 months of age
- Children 6 months-18 years of age who are on long-term aspirin therapy
- Women who are pregnant
- Household contacts and caregivers of anyone in a high-risk group
- Adults 50 years of age and older
- Residents of long-term care facilities and nursing homes
- Health-care workers who come in contact with patients
- Anyone who wants to prevent influenza
- Morbidly obese
- Children with chronic lung disease (Complex Congenital Heart disease)
- Neuromuscular disorders
- Children with asthma
- Immunosuppressed (decreased immune system)
The FLU vaccine is not for everyone. Those with a severe allergy to eggs, history of an allergic reaction to past influenza vaccination and children younger than 6 months of age should not receive the vaccine.
Developing healthy habits for ourselves and children can have a great impact on decreasing the spread of influenza. Remember to wash your hands frequently, avoid close contact with those who are sick, stay home from work or keep children home from school when sick, and cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. Prevention is always the best medicine.