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Charleen Faucette, MT, Director of Infection Prevention
The Chester County Hospital and Health System
Published: August 22, 2011
The nights are getting cooler and days are getting shorter. A new school year is just beginning ... and so is flu season! There's not much we can do about the weather or change of seasons but we can go a long way to diminish the impact of influenza.
Influenza, a.k.a. the flu, is a contagious respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus. Most people experience a mild to severe illness but flu can sometimes cause severe complications that require hospitalization and may even result in death. People over 65, children under the age of 5 (and especially those under 2 years old), pregnant women, and those with underlying medical conditions are at higher risk of severe complications. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends immunization for all persons 6 months old and older that do not have any contraindications to the vaccines or their components. Check with your healthcare professional to determine if you have any reason you should not get flu vaccine.
The flu is not just a bad cold. Symptoms usually start suddenly and can include some, or all, of the following: fever, cough, runny or stuffy nose, extreme fatigue, muscle and body aches, and headache. Some people, especially children, may also experience diarrhea. Symptoms generally last three days or so. If you have the flu, begin to feel better, and then symptoms return or worsen, be sure to contact your healthcare provider as you may be developing a serious complication like a sinus infection or pneumonia.
Influenza is a seasonal infection that usually circulates in the Chester County area from October to April but may begin earlier and can continue into May. Flu vaccine is now available as early as late August. It is best to get your immunization as early as possible because it takes a week or so for your body to fully respond to the vaccine and develop protection. Flu immunizations are available in two forms, the traditional injection (flu shot), and an intra-nasal spray. Although the intra-nasal vaccine may seem like an easier way to get immunized, depending on age and other factors, it is not appropriate for all people. Check with your healthcare provider or vaccine clinic personnel to see which type is best for you and your family. Neither vaccine is recommended for children under 6 months old.
Other common sense steps can also help prevent the spread of influenza. Clean your hands often! Flu germs can be picked up on your hands and then transmitted to you or others. Practice good "cough etiquette" by covering your mouth when you cough, coughing into your elbow or a tissue - not your hand, and disposing of used tissues in the trash. If you have the flu, stay home from work or school to prevent exposing others and avoid close contact with people who appear to be sick.
So let's get ready for fall...get out those sweaters, stock up on school supplies, and get a flu shot for you and your family.
This article was published as part of the Daily Local News Medical Column series which appears every Monday. It has been reprinted by permission of the Daily Local News.
Last Updated: 8/23/2011