As flu season kicks off we want to provide the information needed to help keep you and your loved ones healthy. Influenza activity begins to increase in October with a peak between December and February and can last as late as May. There are a lot of things you can do to decrease your chances of getting the flu including washing your hands frequently with soap and water, cleaning surfaces that may be contaminated, and avoiding those who are sick, but the most effective preventative measure is getting the influenza vaccine. The CDC recommends everyone over 6 months of age get vaccinated, especially those considered at high risk for developing serious complications from the flu. The vaccine reduces illnesses, missed work and school days, complications, hospitalizations, and even death.
High risk groups include anyone with asthma, COPD and other chronic health conditions, anyone 65 years and older, children under the age of 5, and pregnant women. The flu can trigger asthma exacerbations, worsen chronic conditions, and lead to more serious conditions (like pneumonia). It takes about 2 weeks for antibodies from the flu vaccine to develop and provide protection against the flu so you should get the vaccine before it begins spreading in your area. There are certain considerations to make when deciding which flu vaccine to get. Children between 6 months to 8 years old may need to receive two doses of the vaccine given at least 4 weeks apart. Those 65 and older should receive a high dose influenza vaccine. Anyone with asthma is at risk for wheezing after receiving the nasal spray flu vaccine. People with egg allergies can receive the influenza vaccine, but it is recommended for those with a history of severe allergy to be vaccinated in a location where a medical provider who can manage severe allergic reactions is present.
There are other respiratory viruses circulating during the same time as the flu and can cause similar symptoms. These include the “common cold” and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). Flu symptoms usually come on quickly unlike those of a cold. If you experience the following symptoms you should contact your healthcare provider because you may need antiviral medication: fever or feeling feverish/chills, cough, sore throat, muscle aches, headaches, fatigue, runny or stuffy nose, and diarrhea or vomiting (more common in children). Antiviral medications are most effective if started within the first 48 hours of symptom onset. They lessen the severity of symptoms and length of illness by 1-2 days as well as decrease the risk of serious complications. There are now several antiviral medications available and your healthcare provider can determine which is best for you.
Remember the flu is very contagious, and you may be able to spread it to others before you even know you are sick. Symptoms usually begin about 2 days after being exposed and infected, and you are most contagious within the first 3-4 days after illness begins. While sick you should limit contact with others. Stay home, except to get medical care, until you are fever free for at least 24 hours without the use of a fever-reducing medicine. Rest and drink plenty of water and clear fluids to prevent dehydration. If you have asthma, continue taking all of your regular medications to help prevent a flare up.
Vaccination is not just important for your own health but also protecting those around you who are high risk. Contact our office today or ask about getting the flu vaccine at your next appointment.
Leigh Paxton, PA-C
Allergic Disease and Asthma Center