The Reasons to Get the Flu Vaccination Are All Around You
What is influenza – commonly called the flu?
It’s a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can infect the nose, throat and lungs, and it can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death.
Elizabeth Healy, BSN, RN, serves as Quality/Infection Prevention Director at Avera Sacred Heart Hospital, said the best way to prevent the flu is by getting a flu vaccine each year.
“Fever and chills, cough, sore throat, runny/stuffy nose, muscle/body aches, headaches, fatigue – they all are symptoms of the flu,” said Healy. “Some people may experience vomiting and diarrhea, though these symptoms are more common in children than adults. Another important thing to remember is that not everyone who gets the flu will have a fever.”
Healy added that most people recover in a few days or in less than two weeks.
“But some people will develop complications such as pneumonia as a result of the flu, some of which can be life-threatening and result in death,” she said. “Older adults, young children, pregnant women and any people of any age who already have conditions such as COPD, asthma, diabetes, or heart disease, they are at higher risk for developing flu-related complications.”
How Flu Spreads
Most experts believe that flu viruses spread mainly by droplets made when people infected with the flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby. Less often, a person might also get the flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching his or her own mouth, eyes or possibly nose. Healy reminds us all that handwashing can help stop the flu.
“Staying home when you are sick is another great idea,” said Healy. “You are not helping your team if you’re coming in and spreading flu germs.”
When It Is Most Likely to Spread
You may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick. You may be able to infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to five to seven days after becoming sick.
Healy said that while we all hear the warnings, sometimes we overlook just how serious the flu can be.
“It’s unpredictable, and its severity can vary widely from one season to the next depending on many things, such as what flu viruses are spreading, how much and when the vaccine is available, and how many people get vaccinated,” she said. “The effectiveness of the flu vaccine, and how combats the viruses that are causing illness is another factor.”
Flu seasons are unpredictable and can be severe. From 1976–2006, estimates of annual flu-associated deaths in the United States range from a low of about 3,000 to a high of about 49,000 people.
Preventing Seasonal Flu
Healy joins other health professionals in the “Get vaccinated!” chorus because it’s the scientifically proven single-best way to prevent the flu.
She said about two weeks after vaccination, antibodies develop to protect against the four influenza viruses that research suggest will be most common. The inactivated vaccines containing killed virus can be delivered by two different methods:
- The traditional seasonal flu shot is injected into muscle, usually in the upper arm. It has been used for decades and is approved for use in people ages 6 months and older, including healthy people, people with chronic medical conditions and pregnant women.
Healy said health professionals are aware of populations that may need additional considerations.
- “There is an egg-free version available to anyone with an egg allergy or sensitivity, and there are also high-dose vaccines available to people ages 65 and older. The high-dose vaccine contains four times the amount of antigen dose of the standard flu shot to protect aging adults,” she said. “The effectiveness of the standard dose of flu vaccine for a person age 65 or older is only 30 to 40 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”
That’s why it’s so important for older adults to have the correct vaccine, she added. Some clinics can provide what’s known as an intradermal vaccine for people ages 18–64 is injected with a small needle into the skin.