INFLUENZA – “The Real Flu”
INFLUENZA – “The Real Flu”
Influenza (the “flu”) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness. In this country, serious outcomes of flu infection result in hospitalizations for 200,000 persons each year, and death for about 36,000 each year. Some people, such as older people, young children, and people with certain health conditions (including asthma, heart disease, diabetes, HIV, cancer, and morbid obesity) are at especially high risk of serious flu complications.
Common signs and symptoms of the flu include:
- Fever over 100.4 F (38 C)
- Aching muscles, especially in your back, arms and legs
- Chills and sweats
- Dry, persistent cough
- Fatigue and weakness
- Nasal congestion
- Sore throat
Flu Spreads Person to Person
People with flu can spread it to others up to about 6 feet away. Most experts think that flu viruses are spread mainly by droplets produced when people with flu cough, sneeze or even talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. Less often, a person might also get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth or nose.
To avoid this, people should stay away from sick people and stay home if sick. It also is important to wash hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub. Linens, eating utensils, and dishes belonging to those who are sick should not be shared without washing thoroughly first. Eating utensils can be washed either in a dishwasher or by hand with water and soap and do not need to be cleaned separately. Further, frequently touched surfaces should be cleaned and disinfected at home, work and school, especially if someone is ill.
Healthy appearing children and adults may be able to infect other people beginning 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 7 days after becoming sick. Symptoms usually start 1 to 4 days after the virus initially enters the body. That means that you may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before you even know you are sick, as well as while you are sick. Some people can be infected with the flu virus but have no symptoms. During this time, those persons may also still spread the virus to others.
Groups Recommended for Vaccination
Routine annual influenza vaccination is recommended for all persons aged 6 months and older who do not have specific contraindications. Emphasis should be placed on vaccination of high-risk groups which include:
- Children aged 6-59 months;
- Adults aged ≥50 years;
- Persons with chronic pulmonary (including asthma), cardiovascular (except isolated hypertension), renal, hepatic, neurologic, hematologic, or metabolic disorders (including diabetes mellitus);
- Persons who are immunocompromised due to any cause, (including medications or HIV infection);
- Women who are or will be pregnant during the influenza season;
- Children and adolescents (aged 6 months through 18 years) receiving aspirin- or salicylate-containing medications and who might be at risk for Reye syndrome;
- Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities;
- American Indians/Alaska Natives;
- Persons who are extremely obese (BMI ≥40);
- International travelers
- Health care personnel in inpatient and outpatient care settings, medical emergency-response workers, employees of nursing home and long-term care facilities who have contact with patients or residents, and students in these professions who will have contact with patients;
- Household contacts and caregivers of children under age 5 years, and particularly contacts of children less than six months old, and adults who are over the age of 50 years or are in one of the high-risk categories listed.
Timing of Your Flu Vaccination
Optimally, vaccination should occur before the beginning of influenza activity in your community. Vaccination should be offered by end of October, if possible. If not obtained earlier, it is still beneficial to get vaccinated as late as next March. Generally speaking, the vaccination provides protection beginning seven to ten days after the immunization and the protection lasts for at least six months after the flu shot is given. There will be no significant protection this flu season by a flu shot given last year. Children aged 6 months through 8 years who require 2 doses should receive their first dose as soon as possible after vaccine becomes available, and the second dose at least 4 weeks later. For persons 65 years and older, a ‘high potency’ formulation of flu vaccine should be used. The ‘nasal spray’ flu vaccine should not be used because it has been shown to have inferior protection against certain strains of the flu virus during the most recent two flu seasons.
When Is the Flu Season?
While seasonal influenza (flu) viruses can be detected year-round in the United States, flu viruses are most common during the fall and winter months. The exact timing and duration of flu seasons can vary, but influenza activity often begins to increase in October. Most of the time, flu activity peaks between December and February, although activity can sometimes last as late as May.
The “peak month of flu activity” is the month with the highest percentage of respiratory specimen testing positive for influenza virus infection during that influenza season. During this 34-year period, flu activity most often peaked in February (14 seasons), followed by December (7 seasons), March (6 seasons), and January (5 seasons).
To check the influenza activity in your area, visit this CDC website which is updated weekly during the flu season. Click on your state for more details:
Misconceptions about Flu Vaccines
Can a flu shot give you the flu?
No, a flu shot cannot cause flu illness. Flu vaccines given with a needle are currently made in two ways: the vaccine is made either with a) flu vaccine viruses that have been ‘inactivated’ and are therefore not infectious, or b) with no flu vaccine viruses at all (which is the case for recombinant influenza vaccine). The most common side effects from the influenza shot are soreness, redness, tenderness or swelling where the shot was given. Low-grade fever, headache and muscle aches also may occur. In randomized, blinded studies, where some people get inactivated flu shots and others get salt-water shots, the only differences in symptoms was increased soreness in the arm and redness at the injection site among people who got the flu shot. There were no differences in terms of body aches, fever, cough, runny nose or sore throat.There are several reasons why someone might get flu symptoms, even after they have been vaccinated against flu.
What about people who get a seasonal flu vaccine and still get sick with flu symptoms?
- One reason is that some people can become ill from other respiratory viruses besides flu such as rhinoviruses, which are associated with the common cold and cause symptoms similar to flu. These other viruses also spread and cause illness during the flu season. The flu vaccine only protects against influenza, not other viral illnesses.
- Another explanation is that it is possible to be exposed to influenza viruses, which cause the flu, shortly before getting vaccinated or during the two-week period after vaccination that it takes the body to develop immune protection. This exposure may result in a person becoming ill with flu before protection from the vaccine takes effect.
- A third reason why some people may experience flu like symptoms despite getting vaccinated is that they may have been exposed to a flu virus that is very different from the three or four influenza virus strains that the vaccine is designed to protect against. The ability of a flu vaccine to protect a person depends largely on the similarity or “match” between the viruses selected to make the vaccine and those spreading and causing illness. There are many different flu viruses that spread and cause illness among people.
- The final explanation for experiencing flu symptoms after vaccination is that the flu vaccine can vary in how well it works (https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/qa/vaccineeffect.htm) and some people who get vaccinated may still get sick.
Flu shots are safe and effective and can protect us from a potentially life threatening illness. The peak Influenza season is October through March and everyone age six months and older should receive a flu shot annually.
Call us at the Travel and Immunization Clinic (913-469-0011) or go our website:
to schedule your appointment; or you can even “walk in” during our normal office hours to get your flu shot now!