Vaccine best deterrent in fighting flu

Experts say it takes two weeks for a flu shot to be effective. An estimated 80,000 people died from the flu last year.

The syringes are ready; all that’s needed is the arms that their needles must poke into to deliver flu vaccinations.

The 2017 flu season was the most severe in the United States in more than 40 years, since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention first published statistics on the influenza virus. Officials estimate that 80,000 people were killed by the flu and its complications last year.

“One hundred and eighty kids – this really hit me hard as the father of three kids – died last year from the flu. And the majority of them were unvaccinated,” said U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome M. Adams on Sept. 27 at a news conference that was hosted by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. “Flu vaccinations save lives.”

“For Calaveras County in 2017, there was one influenza death in a person under 65, and one flu-related hospitalization to the intensive care unit,” said Calaveras County Health Officer Dr. Dean Kelaita this week. “In 2018, there was also one death and two ICU hospitalizations.”

Kelaita said records on the flu can be difficult to track.

“Influenza activity in Calaveras County, as well as throughout California, was considered widespread for several months last year,” he said. “When it comes to deaths and hospitalizations, we look at only those cases in individuals less than 65 years old. This is because flu deaths and hospitalizations to the ICU in the elderly are very common, and when this starts to impact younger and healthier persons, this is a signal that the strain of influenza virus circulating is more severe ( i.e. virulent).”

Officials agree that the best way to avoid getting sick or reducing the severity of the flu if you do catch it is to be vaccinated every year.

“Flu vaccinations save lives,” Adams said last week as a needle went into his arm. “That’s why it’s so important for everyone 6 months and older to get a flu vaccine every year.”

“It’s not possible to predict how severe the upcoming season will be,” says the agency’s website, cdc.gov, “but we know that the best way to prevent flu and its potentially serious complications is a flu vaccine.”

The CDC acknowledges that many people are wary of the flu vaccine, and there are several myths and untruths about it.

“A flu vaccine cannot give you flu,” the CDC says. “The most common side effects from a flu shot are soreness, redness and/or swelling where the shot was given, fever and/or muscle aches. These side effects are NOT flu. If you do experience side effects, they are usually mild and short-lived, especially when compared to symptoms from a bad case of flu.”

“Flu vaccines are among the safest medical products in use,” the agency said. “Hundreds of millions of Americans have safely received flu vaccines over the past 50 years. Extensive research supports the safety of flu vaccines.”

“Everyone older than 6 months old should get a flu shot,” Kelaita agreed. “The most critical groups are those considered ‘high risk’ for complications, such as people over 55 years old, those with underlying medical conditions and pregnant women.

“Every year a small number of young and otherwise healthy people get severe influenza illness,” Kelaita added. “The right time to get the vaccine is as soon as possible, and throughout the flu season all the way into March if needed.”

“If and when someone needs medical care, all health care workers (doctors, nurses, hospital/clinic employees) are now required by the local health department to have had a flu shot, or wear a mask to protect those seeking care.”

Getting a flu vaccination is fairly easy.

“As with other vaccinations, the majority of influenza immunizations are given in the private medical sector, such as physician offices, clinics and health fairs,” Kelaita said. “Pharmacies are becoming a larger player in the vaccination network as the share of vaccines provided by the chain drug stores has increased locally over the past three years. Calaveras Public Health Services holds regularly scheduled flu shot clinics on Monday afternoons to supplement the influenza vaccine supply, as well as a dedicated Drive Through Clinic at the Government Center Nov. 1 from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Those interested in getting the flu shot should start with their regular medical provider.”

“It’s best to get vaccinated before flu begins spreading in your community,” the CDC says. “It takes about two weeks after vaccination for your body to develop protection against flu.”

The CDC also says that people who have caught the flu are contagious one day before they start to feel sick and for up to seven days after that time.

Once the flu virus starts to appear in communities, the CDC recommends healthy people do their best to avoid those who are sick “and washing your hands to reduce the spread of germs. If you are sick with flu, stay home from work or school to prevent spreading flu to others.”

Whether you were vaccinated or not, there are prescription medications – called antivirals – that can be used to treat influenza, but they have to be taken very quickly once the illness begins.

“Treatment with antivirals works best when begun within 48 hours of getting sick, but can still be beneficial when given later in the course of illness,” the CDC said. “Antiviral drugs are effective across all age and risk groups. Studies show that antiviral drugs are under-prescribed for people who are at high risk of complications who get flu.”

During the colder months, people also often confuse symptoms of the common cold with influenza.

“The symptoms of flu can include fever or feeling feverish/chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue (tiredness),” the agency said. “Cold symptoms are usually milder than the symptoms of flu. People with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose. Colds generally do not result in serious health problems.”

“The influenza vaccine remains the most effective way to prevent getting the flu and staying healthy,” Kelaita said.

For more on the flu, visit cdc.gov. For more on local vaccinations, visit publichealth.calaverasgov.us or call Public Health Services at 754-6460.

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