To be unaware of the impact of the flu on communities around the nation your head would have to be buried in the sand. Flu related hospitalizations and deaths are on the rise. Some reports state that vaccinations for this flu season have been lower compared to previous years. Since the H1N1 swine flu pandemic of 2009, flu vaccination enthusiasm seems to have waned. The shortage of flu vaccine during that time period escalated the drive to get vaccinated. Of course, we have not seen this until recent days. Availability of flu vaccine this past fall was probably as high as it’s ever been. Many corner pharmacies started their flu campaign before the end of summer. So what is it about this year?
I don’t have an evidence based opinion but I think as we get further away from the H1N1 scare from a few years ago, concern about serious flu illness decreases. Some adult patients, and relatives of mine, have told me they don’t get flu shots because they have never had the flu. Some have stated they got the flu after getting the flu vaccine. Others have been influenced by friends or relatives who warned about getting the flu from the vaccination. If you identify with any of these statements review my posting from Nov 2011.
I have previously reviewed the pros and cons about flu vaccination. Although the flu vaccine doesn’t guarantee protecting you against flu syndrome, it is the best shot (excuse the pun) you have to reduce your risk of dying from it.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has a 3 step recommendation for this year’s flu season:
1) Get vaccinated! If you are 6 months or older you should get the flu vaccine. The exceptions include those who have experienced a serious adverse response to a previous flu vaccine. Those at high risk for serious flu illness include pregnant women, people with chronic diseases and those over 65 years of age. Children under 6 months of age are at high risk but are too young to be vaccinated. Their family and caregivers should get flu vaccination.
2) Do everything you can to avoid contracting and spreading the flu! Frequent hand washing with soap and water or as an alternative, alcohol based hand sanitizer is recommended. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth if your hands have not been cleaned. Cover your nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing. Stay home from work or school if you have flu symptoms, until your fever has been gone for at least 24 hours (without the aid of medicine to keep the temperature down).
3) Talk to your doctor early on! You may be instructed to take antiviral medication. All antiviral drugs are by prescription and work best if taken within the first 2 days of the flu syndrome. These medications may shorten the duration of the flu illness and reduce the risk of serious complications.
Egg allergy is no longer a reason to avoid getting the flu vaccine. Current recommendations are to get the regular injection of the flu vaccine if the reaction to egg was only mild to moderate. People who have experienced a mild rash or swelling, or stomach upset may get the vaccine without special preparation. But they are advised to wait in the doctor’s office for 30 minutes after the injection for safe measure. If severe allergic reactions have previously occurred (anaphylaxis, throat closure, shock) an allergist should be consulted first.
At the time of this posting, flu season 2012-13 has not peaked. This means you still have time to prepare. You get protective antibody formation about 2 weeks after getting vaccinated. The seasonal flu period is from December to March. H1N1 is a year round threat and remains a culprit this year, although in a small percentage of patients so far.
It’s never too late to get the flu vaccine, but the best time for you, if you haven’t been vaccinated, is now.