It's that (flu shot) time of year again

Posted: Wednesday, October 15, 2003

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, Division of Public Health, Juneau nursing staff is gearing up for another flu season. The kickoff is October and we would like to INFLUENCE you to get a flu shot this year.

Influenza (flu) is a highly infectious disease of the lungs, and it can lead to pneumonia. Each year approximately 114,000 people in the U.S. are hospitalized and approximately 36,000 people die because of the flu. Most who die are 65 years and older, but children younger than two years are as likely as those older than 65 to go to the hospital because of the flu.

"Influenza vaccination is the best way to prevent influenza and its severe complications," said Dr. Walter Orenstein, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Immunization Program. "The best time to be vaccinated against influenza continues to be October and November. However, vaccination in December or later can still be beneficial."

Although anyone who wishes to avoid influenza should be vaccinated, CDC strongly recommends influenza vaccination for any person six months or older and at increased risk for complications from influenza. Those at highest risk for complications from influenza include people 65 years and older and those with chronic, long-term health problems such as heart or lung disease, kidney problems, diabetes, asthma, anemia, HIV/AIDS or any other illness that suppresses the immune system. Adults and children six months or older who have chronic heart or lung conditions, including asthma, are strongly urged to receive the vaccination.

CDC also recommends vaccination for people age 50 to 64 years because this group has an increased prevalence among those with high-risk conditions. In addition, health-care workers and others in close contact with those at high risk should be vaccinated to reduce the possibility of transmitting influenza to those at high risk.

Because young children also are at increased risk of influenza-related complications, vaccination is encouraged for children six to 23 months, their household contacts and out-of-home caregivers.

Pregnancy can also increase the risk for complications from the flu, and pregnant women are more likely to be hospitalized from complications of the flu than non-pregnant women of the same age. Women who will be beyond the first three months of pregnancy during the flu season should get a flu shot. Pregnant women who have medical problems that increase their risk for complications from the flu should get a flu shot before the flu season, no matter their stage of pregnancy. It is safe for breast-feeding mothers to get a flu shot; the flu shot cannot cause flu in either mother or baby.

People with a severe allergy to hens' eggs, who have had a severe reaction to a flu shot in the past, or who previously developed Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) in the six weeks after getting a flu shot, should not get a flu shot before talking with their doctor.

Winter is the prime time for influenza. Influenza season typically ranges from November through March or beyond. Flu activity peaked in January or later during 22 of the past 26 influenza seasons.

If you do get the flu, you should rest, drink plenty of liquids, avoid using alcohol and tobacco and take medication to relieve the symptoms of the flu.

Remember, prevention is the best medicine to take.

If you have questions about the flu vaccine, please call your health care provider or the Juneau Public Health Center Nursing Staff.

•Justine Muench is a Public Health Nurse at the Juneau Public Health Center.

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