Tens of thousands of people die from flu-related complications every year in the United States, many of the victims being 65 years or older. The elderly, the very young, pregnant women and people who are chronically ill have a higher risk of serious flu-related complications.
But it can also be fatal for the young and healthy. The Center for Disease Control reported a total of 169 influenza-associated pediatric deaths in the United States during the 2017-18 winter flu season.
“Every year, the flu viruses cause millions of illnesses, hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations and thousands of unfortunate deaths,” said Riley Physicians pediatrician Jeremy Mescher, MD. “CDC data from the 2017-18 season suggests that at least 85 percent of the children who passed away from complications of influenza last year had not received the flu vaccine.”
To reduce the chance of any person getting and passing on the virus, the influenza vaccine is recommended.
The influenza virus changes every year, so every year the flu vaccination changes in order to better protect people from the virus strains that are most likely to be in their communities. Last year’s vaccination isn’t likely to cover the strain of flu that is in your community this year. That’s why everyone needs to get their flu shot annually.
“We at Riley Physicians are in support of the American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement regarding annual immunization of everyone ages six months and older with the influenza vaccine, including children and
adolescents,” said Dr. Mescher.
It can take up to two weeks for the influenza vaccine to create antibodies to fight the flu. People who get their vaccine in early October, or as soon as the vaccine is available, have a better chance of their antibodies working at optimal levels during the brunt of flu season. The Center for Disease Control recommends administering the seasonal influenza vaccine to all age groups as soon as it becomes available.
One area of concern is pregnant women and new mothers. Pregnant women are encouraged to get vaccinated since serious flu complications could develop.
New mothers should also get the vaccine to decrease the possibility of passing the flu virus to their newborn children.
Another common misconception is that the flu shot can give someone the flu. The injection you receive contains a dead influenza virus, so it can’t give you the flu.
“One of the most common concerns from families is, ‘we received the flu shot last year, and we got the flu,” said Dr. Mescher. “The flu shot can have side effects including fever, headache, and muscle aches. However, a flu vaccine will not cause the flu illness, or any of the complications of the flu.”
Catching the Flu
When a person catches the flu, the symptoms come on very quickly and can be mild or severe. Symptoms may include: fever, cough, sore throat, headaches, tiredness, vomiting, diarrhea, runny nose and stuffy nose.
Even people who don’t exhibit flu symptoms can pass on the flu virus to their friends, family and community members. While they don’t feel sick, the virus is still using them as stepping stones, infecting people who could have serious complications from the flu.
The flu vaccine doesn’t just protect the individual taking the precaution, it also protects those around him or her.
Another way to protect others from influenza and other illnesses is by practicing hand hygiene. Viruses and bacteria are invisible to the naked eye, but they can pack quite a punch when they attack the immune system.
The spread of germs can be as simple as a child sneezing into her hand before touching a doorknob. The next person to open the door then brushes their hand over his or her nose. The end result: a few days later the person is sick in bed.
Washing hands thoroughly with warm water and using hand sanitizer correctly kills bacteria and viruses encountered in everyday life. Sneezing or coughing into a tissue or into the inside of your arm and staying home when you’re sick also limits the spread of the virus.
Regularly disinfecting items such as cell phones, steering wheels, remote controls, door knobs and keyboards are other ways to fight the flu virus.
“Ultimately, receiving the flu shot each fall is the best way to protect oneself and one’s family against the flu,” said Dr. Mescher. “Please talk to your pediatrician regarding when they anticipate having the vaccine in the office for the 2018-19 season.”
Use these tips to help fight influenza this flu season and make your community a safer and healthier place.
Featured Riley Physicians provider:
Jeremy Mescher, MD