It's Autumn: Do You Know Where Your Flu Shot Is Coming From?
In my area of the world, leaves are beginning to drop from branches and litter the ground, the air is noticeably cooler after the sun goes down and sandals and tank tops are pushed into the back of the closet in favor of socks and sweatshirts. Must be autumn...
As the fall season overtakes us, it is time to start thinking about preventing winter viruses, including the flu and pneumonia. These respiratory infections can be irritating and misery-inducing to most of the world, but to people with chronic respiratory disease like COPD and asthma, the influenza and pneumonia can be deadly.
So, preventing them is a crucial part of your treatment plan. Getting a vaccine is the easiest way to prevent the flu and pneumonia from striking you this year.
Seasonal Flu Shots
This year, we're dealing with two different types of flu shots -- the usual seasonal kind and also swine flu, now being referred to as H1N1 flu virus. While the combined effect of both can be severe, it is actually the seasonal flu that presents the most risk for older adults with COPD. H1N1 flu poses a greater risk to children and young adults.
Everyone who has COPD (or is caregiver for someone with COPD) should receive a seasonal flu shot this year, as soon as possible. You cannot get the flu from a flu shot because it is made from killed virus. Getting the shot might be a little uncomfortable at the time or for a day or two afterwards, but not getting the flu makes is worthwhile to endure a little discomfort.
Swine Flu (H1N1) Shots
You can read this article by our expert, Dr. James Thompson, to get the details about H1N1 flu and flu shots.
But what you need to know is that people aged 25 to 64 who have a chronic medical condition should definitely get the H1N1 vaccine when it becomes available, in addition to the seasonal flu vaccine. They are two different shots and are not combined into one syringe. Also, seasonal flu shots will likely be available sooner than the H1N1 flu shots, which are scheduled to be widely available in the U.S. by mid-October.
If you are older than 64, then check with your doctor about whether you need to get an H1N1 flu shot. It's probably still a good idea, but your risk of developing H1N1 is lower than the other age groups, even if you have COPD. Still, if vaccine remains available once the high risk groups have all been immunized, you may be eligible.
Pneumonia is yet another respiratory viral illness that threatens the health of people with COPD each year. So, experts generally recommend that COPD'ers get a pneumonia shot periodically. The good news is, pneumonia vaccines last longer than flu vaccines, so you only have to get a new one every 5 to 10 years (check with your doctor on timing).
Pneumonia and seasonal flu can be an extremely serious combination for someone with already compromised lungs like people with COPD, so it's essential that you prevent these illnesses to the best of your ability.
Where to Get Flu & Pneumonia Shots
Most doctors should have vaccine available, at least early in the fall, so that may be your best place to start. In addition, public "clinics" are available in many areas in local pharmacies, grocery stores and health departments. Here are a couple of places where you can learn more about what might be available in your area:
- CDC site on H1N1 availability by state
- American Lung Association's flu clinic locator
- FindaFluShot.com, administered by Maxim Health Systems
No shortages are expected this year in flu vaccine, but you should still get your shot as soon as you can. It takes at least 2 to 3 weeks to build up to full protection after you get the shot, so the earlier you get it, the better. Generally, you should be able to get pneumonia shots most anywhere you can get flu shots.
What Else You Can Do
Despite the widespread availability of flu and pneumonia shots, many people still opt not to get them, meaning many of them will fall ill with one or both of the diseases this year. And that puts you at risk. So you'll want to do your best to avoid people who haven't been immunized.
Practice frequent handwashing, especially if you go out into the public. If you are exposed to the flu, watch for symptoms and call your doctor right away if you think you may have contracted the flu or pneumonia to find out whether other treatment might be helpful.
Do your best this year to prevent the spread of the flu and pneumonia!