Tuesday , April 13 2021

Flu Season: Are You Ready?

By John Voight, MSN, RN, NEA-BC, Vice President, Emergency Services, Ocala Health
Flu Season: Are You ReadyIt is evident by the cooler temperatures that fall has arrived and along with the seasonal change, it’s important to recognize that flu season is upon us.  Influenza, otherwise known as flu, is a viral respiratory illness that has several different strains and each year the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) try their best to determine which strain will strike.  This is not always successful considering the CDC reports that the 2015-16 vaccine was only 47% effective while the 2014-15 vaccine was only 19% effective.  Regardless of the effectiveness, experts insist that vaccination is still the “best protection” against severe illness.  Anyone who has had the flu will tell you their survival stories about how they were “out for the count” often feeling sick for a week or more sometimes leading to an emergency room visit.  Have you had your flu vaccine and are you ready for flu season?
The symptoms for flu vary but usually consist of a sore throat, runny nose, cough, fever, and the overall feeling of fatigue and exhaustion accompanied by body aches.  People have often said that they feel as if they were hit by a car!  The incubation period is an average of two days from the time you are infected and is mostly transmitted by sneezing and coughing which produce infected droplets that others come into contact with.
How to Protect Yourself
There are three main considerations to avoid getting the flu.
1.    Handwashing – This is one of the most effective strategies to prevent flu transmission and is often ignored by many.  Washing your hands with soap and water or using one of the alcohol hand sanitizers offers great protection.
2.    Stay away from those who are sick – If you have family members you are caring for then try to wear a mask whenever you are around them and wash your hands before and after caring for them.
3.    FLU VACCINE – Get the flu vaccination every year!  Even though the flu vaccine is not 100% effective, it offers significant protection against the flu.
Who should be vaccinated?
Everyone six months or older should receive the flu vaccine.  Those individuals who have the highest risk are usually the ones that tend to be immunocompromised, or have a weakened immune system which includes infants, small kids, pregnant women, and older adults.  Pneumonia can often result from those who are immunocompromised and have the flu usually resulting in prolonged hospitalization.
Is the vaccine safe?
I am sure most of us have heard stories from friends and family that the flu vaccine made them sick with the flu.  The truth is that the vaccine does not cause the flu but in many cases the individual may have been starting to get sick with the flu or another virus at the time of vaccination.  Most often, the vaccine has no side effects at all.  On occasion, there can be redness, mild swelling or soreness at the injection site sometimes resulting in a sore muscle for a few days.  Some individuals can even have a mild fever or rash but these are most often side effects of the vaccine and not the actual flu virus.
When and where to get vaccinated?
The best time to get the flu vaccine is in early fall as this allows the broadest coverage period possible as the flu season usually starts in the fall and goes until spring.  It’s important to know that just because flu cases might be low in the early part of the season doesn’t mean that it can’t increase in February or March.  The flu virus is unpredictable every year and we never know which strain will hit and when it will strike so the best prevention is early vaccination.
Flu vaccine can usually be obtained at your primary care physician’s office and is also readily available at many drug stores.  It’s usually covered by insurance carriers as well as it is much more cost effective to prevent the flu than to pay for a hospitalization or emergency room visit.
What if I get the flu?
It is possible to still get sick with the flu even if you have had the vaccine.  Remember, the vaccine was only 47% effective last year so that means that many of us who were vaccinated can still get the flu.  If you think you have the flu then it is important to stay home from work or school and get plenty of rest and drink plenty of fluids.  Fever can be managed with over-the-counter Tylenol but it is important to never use Aspirin in children as this can cause Reye’s syndrome.  Most people get better within 1-2 weeks on their own but if you start having any of the symptoms below, call your doctor or go to the emergency room for evaluation:
• Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
• Inability to drink enough fluids
• Chest pain
• Confusion
• Severe vomiting
Pay close attention to kids who have the following symptoms and contact your doctor immediately or go the emergency room for evaluation:
• Breathing fast or having difficulty breathing
• Starting to turn purple or blue
• Not drinking enough fluids
• Feeling sluggish or having difficulty waking up
• Being very fussy or nothing makes them feel better
• Having fever with a rash
• Improving from flu but then getting sick again with fever or cough
Being prepared for the flu season will greatly improve your chances of avoiding a serious illness and likely keep you from being “out of commission.”  Prevention with handwashing, avoiding sick people, and getting the flu vaccination is your best protection!

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