Hinsdale – With flu season just around the corner, now is a great time to get a flu shot, according to an Adventist Hinsdale Hospital physician. The flu might seem like a commonplace illness, but it can be dangerous, especially for children under 2, adults older than 65 and other high-risk individuals. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 200,000 people are hospitalized and more than 36,000 people in the United States die each year from flu-related complications.
“Getting an annual flu shot is your best protection against contracting the flu,” said Dr. Charles Friedl, a family medicine specialist on staff at Adventist Hinsdale Hospital. “Most of the time, the flu shot does prevent the flu.”
Formally known as influenza, the flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It is transmitted through contact with an infected person, through air droplets or contaminated items. Annual vaccinations are necessary because influenza viruses mutate so quickly, often rendering one season’s vaccine ineffective by the next season. The vaccine produced during a given season targets those strains most likely to make people sick. The best time to get vaccinated is at the start of flu season, which begins in October and can run through late April or early May.
“We can’t stress enough that the flu shot does not cause the flu,” Friedl said. “The flu shot does not contain a live virus and cannot cause the flu. This influenza vaccine is an inactivated virus given with a needle. Some people get a little soreness or redness in the area where they got the shot, but it goes away in a day or two.”
In addition to children under 2 and adults older than 65, others at risk for suffering complications from the flu include pregnant women, people with certain chronic medical conditions and residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. People who live in the same households as infants age six months or younger or other susceptible populations also should be vaccinated to avoid spreading the disease, Friedl said.
While the best protection is getting a flu shot every year, Friedl stressed that recognizing the signs of flu and knowing when to seek medical attention is also important. Flu symptoms – which can include fever, body aches and intense coughing – are similar to those of the common cold but come on more quickly and can be more intense. The persistence of a high fever or worsening of respiratory symptoms – such as a productive cough, wheezing or difficulty breathing – mean it’s time to seek medical attention, Friedl said.
“When in doubt, contact your family doctor,” Friedl said.
There’s no cure for the flu, but taking medication can ease symptoms, Friedl added.
“Over-the-counter medicines aren’t as effective as prescription anti-viral medications that can lessen the impact of the flu if they’re taken within two days of the appearance of symptoms,” he said. “That’s why you should see your doctor right away if you think you’ve got the flu.”
Friedl also urges people to follow the CDC’s recommendations to take the following preventative measures to avoid contracting and spreading the flu:
· Avoid close contact with others when you’re sick,
· Stay home from work or school when you’re sick,
· Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing,
· Wash your hands often,
· Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth, and
· Practice other good health habits: get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.