MASSENA -- Last year's flu season started late and ended up being one of the mildest ever, but that's no reason to be complacent this year, according to Nurse Practitioner Kathleen Lauzon, Director of the Levine Outpatient Center at Massena Memorial Hospital
The Centers for Disease Control is again recommending universal vaccination-a flu shot for virtually everyone age six months and older.
Flu seasons vary in severity and timing and some individuals are more likely to get the flu and some are more vulnerable to the more severe complications.
But public health officials have determined that the best way to protect everyone is through universal immunization, building herd immunity.
For most people, the flu means a week or two of misery and significant lost time from work or school.
But certain people can develop more serious complications such as dehydration, pneumonia, worsening asthma, heart failure, etc.
Between 1976 and 2006, flu-associated deaths ranged from 3,000 to 49,000 a year.
Flu viruses are always changing. The vaccine is developed each year to protect against the three viruses determined to be the most prevalent. That is why annual vaccine is necessary.
Immunization is most crucial for those people with chronic medical conditions such as asthma, COPD, diabetes and heart problems. Pregnant women and young children (particularly those between 6 months and 2 years of age) should be vaccinated. Senior citizens also need to be vaccinated every year, health officials say.
Those whose work involves taking care of the elderly, sick or young children should be vaccinated for their own health, and the good of those they care for.
Those who should not be vaccinated include anyone with a severe allergy to chicken eggs, who has had a severe reaction to a previous flu shot, is ill at the time and those with a history of Guillain-Barre Syndrome.
“We expect the flu season to begin in January and February, but in reality it can start occurring as early as October,” said Lauzon.
“Since it takes about two weeks for the vaccine to take effect, we recommend getting the vaccine as soon as it becomes available, though traditionally October is the month for Flu Shots.”
Any worry about catching the flu from a vaccine is unfounded. The vaccine is made from a killed or inactivated virus. Possible side effects from the vaccine are generally mild and include: soreness, redness or swelling at the injection site, headache, fever or nausea. There can be serious side effects from any vaccine or medication. You should discuss this with your healthcare provider or pharmacist prior to getting/taking any vaccine or medication.
Frequent hand washing and use of hand antiseptic is the most important thing you can do to stay healthy this winter, Lauzon added. “Good cough etiquette is very important to prevent the spread of germs: cough or sneeze into your elbow or a tissue, not your hand or open to the air! If you are sick, stay home if at all possible. The flu virus can be transmitted from one day before you are truly ill to a week after symptoms start.”
The flu is a virus and does not respond to antibiotics. There are a couple of anti-viral medications that help, but they have to be started in the early stage of the illness. Rest and fluids are the “good old” stand by treatments. Some people do require intravenous fluids and even hospitalization for this illness.
Flu vaccines are available from your primary care doctor/practitioner, most local drug stores, and even many employers.
“We want you to be as healthy as possible. Time in a “sick bed” is time lost from work or play. It doesn’t take long to get your flu shot, but believe me; it can seem like forever trying to get over Influenza. I have seen many patients have to make repeated visits to the Emergency Room, clinic or doctor’s office because they are still coughing, and feeling just plain miserable. Why risk it? Nearly every insurance covers the cost of the vaccine, and for those without insurance, look for a free shot clinic near you.”
For more information or an appointment with Lauzon call 769-4648. Her practice is located in the MMH Bushnell Medical Office Building, 17 Hospital Drive, Suite 2