It may not feel like winter in some parts of the country, but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, seasonal influenza activity has increased slightly in the United States.
Mitchell Williams Jr. doesn’t wait for the season to change to get his flu vaccine. For the last seven years, Williams, 65, a retired truck driver, gets a flu shot at the beginning of the flu season.
“Before I started getting the flu vaccine, I would get the flu and it would cause additional health problems because I am asthmatic,” Williams said.
He has not had the flu since he started receiving the flu vaccine at the recommendation of his primary care physician.
“I can’t remember the last time I got the flu,” Williams said. “I had no concerns about receiving the vaccination nor have I experienced any side effects.”
He receives a flu shot every October or November — at the beginning of the flu season — from his doctor’s office.
“I don’t want to get sick, then get out of breath and then start wheezing, then have an asthma attack,” he said.
“The flu is a contagious illness caused by a strain of the influenza virus,” said Dr. John Kim, senior medical officer for Alignment Healthcare and chief medical officer for Alignment Health Plan.
“Symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. While symptoms may be similar, the flu and the common cold are not the same thing. They are caused by different viruses and colds are usually milder and generally do not lead to serious health problems like pneumonia or hospitalization. Flu, on the other hand, is a serious disease that can lead to hospitalization or even death.”
According to the CDC, the flu infection can be more serious for people with asthma, even if their asthma is mild or their symptoms are managed by medication. People with asthma have swollen and sensitive airways, and influenza can cause further inflammation of the airways and lungs. Influenza infection in the lungs can trigger asthma attacks.
Medical professionals recommend to take steps to lower your chance of getting sick:
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth and contact with those you know are sick.
- Do not share your breathing equipment or medicines with others.
- Get a yearly flu vaccine.
- Get the pneumococcal vaccine. You should only need the vaccine once, with a booster as needed.
- Keep your breathing equipment clean. This includes your asthma inhaler, asthma nebulizer and nebulizer tubing and mouthpiece.
- Wash your hands often with soap and warm water, several times a day.
“Annual vaccination is the single best way to prevent the flu,” Dr. Kim said. “Flu viruses change constantly, so the flu vaccine is reviewed every year and updated as needed to protect against the three or four viruses that researchers predict will be most likely to spread during that year’s flu season. The body’s immunity against the virus also declines over time.”
Dr. Kim reminds the public that there is no live flu virus in the shot; therefore it cannot cause the flu.
“People may get sick after getting the flu shot because like with any medicine, there are side effects or the possibility of developing a reaction. They are usually mild and last one or two days. Most people who get the shot never have any problems.”
Common side effects include soreness, redness, or swelling where the shot was given, headache, a low-grade fever, nausea and muscle aches.
The flu is a virus, therefore antibiotics will not help. There are some antiviral drugs that may be prescribed to help treat the flu.
The CDC recommends that you get the flu shot as soon as it is available. It takes about two weeks after the injection to provide protection against the flu. Even healthy children and adults can get sick from the flu, so be sure to protect you and your loved ones by getting vaccinated.
Every indidivual 6 months and older should get the flu shot, especially seniors, infants or anyone with compromised immune systems, according to the CDC. Children younger than 6 months old and people with severe, life-threatening allergies to vaccine ingredients should not get a flu shot.
While U.S. flu vaccines are most commonly developed using eggs, there are now approved vaccines on the market that do not use eggs.
In spite of myths, pregnant women can receive the flu shot. The flu is more likely to cause serious complications in pregnant women than healthy women who aren’t pregnant, and research shows that vaccination can protect their newborn babies from the flu. The CDC recommends that pregnant women get a flu shot during any trimester of the pregnancy, but encourages those with concerns or questions to talk to her doctor.
For those who travel during the flu season, the flu vaccine used in the United States usually protects against the same viruses circulating in other parts of the world. Keep in mind that flu activity in the United States winds down in April or May, just as the Southern Hemisphere begins its season. In the tropics, flu activity happens throughout the year.
The CDC recommends that U.S. residents who did not get a flu vaccine in the fall for the 2017-18 season and are planning summer travel should get vaccinated at least two weeks before travel. Even if you do get vaccinated in the summer, you should still get the next season’s vaccine in the fall or winter.
As with all recommended medications, consult your medical professional or primary care physician.
Alignment Healthcare – www.ahcusa.com
Asthma – www.asthma.com
Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America – www.aafa.org
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – www.cdc.gov/flu
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – www.vaccines.gov
Marie Y. Lemelle, MBA, a public relations consultant, is the owner of Platinum Star PR and can be reached on Twitter @PlatinumStar or Instagram @PlatinumStarPR. Send “Health Matters” related questions to firstname.lastname@example.org and look for her column in The Wave.