Holidays around the corner, as is flu season

Holidays around the corner, as is flu season
Robert Denty

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention scientist examines the results of a hemagglutinin inhibition test. The tests can tell whether antibodies, developed through vaccination, also will recognize circulating flu viruses. Using this data, scientists can decide which viruses to include in the seasonal flu vaccine.

                        

WebMD estimates anywhere from 5-20 percent of the U.S. population contracts the influenza virus in any given year. Of those, approximately 200,000 end up in the hospital, and anywhere from 3,000-49,000 die from flu-related causes. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control, the best way to avoid getting the illness is to get a flu vaccine every year.

“Basically the flu is a respiratory infection,” Wayne County Health and Wellness nurse Misty White said. “While there are [other symptoms] associated with the flu, the vaccination covers the respiratory side of things, like congestion, that could go into pneumonia.”

Last year the CDC published an article in the Clinical Infectious Disease journal stating flu vaccines reduced the chance of getting sick by 38 percent.

“The vaccine has four different components in it,” White said. “They are the four strands that are thought to be the most likely to be in this area. They are also the ones that could cause the most harm to the elderly, the young or those with compromised immune systems.”

While there are more than 50 strands of the influenza virus, getting a vaccine reduces an individual’s chance of catching a severe case of flu. “It also stops you from spreading the virus to others,” White said. “It protects you, as well as others in the community.”

Because flu symptoms closely resemble those of a cold, sometimes it can be difficult to tell the difference between the two at the onset. A person may experience sneezing, a stuffy nose and a sore throat — typical symptoms of a cold that do not usually pose a significant health risk or typically require hospitalization — but the flu can quickly evolve into a more severe condition.

“The flu varies from person to person,” White said. “Some may only experience mild symptoms, but others may be really knocked out and be down for a week.”

White said the flu is especially dangerous for those with other conditions such as heart disease, diabetes or cancer. “If your body is already trying to compensate for something else, you are not building antibodies,” she said. “If you get the flu, it is more of a risk to you. It can cause other complications, and recovery could take a lot longer.”

White said it is essential to get the flu shot regularly. “It is not like a measles vaccination,” she said. “With measles there is only one virus, and it only requires an update every few years. The flu virus mutates rapidly; therefore you need a flu shot every four to six months. It is meant to be a short-term vaccine and is not meant to last for years like the measles vaccination.”

If you get the virus, it is crucial to get plenty of rest and drink fluids to avoid dehydration. White said ibuprofen should be taken to help reduce fever.

Dan Starcher is a public communications specialist for the Wayne County board of commissioners.


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