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Preparing for Flu Season – Protect yourself with the flu vaccine!

19238586_s (2)The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends a yearly flu vaccine as the first and most important step in protecting you and your family against contracting flu viruses. Everyone who is at least six months of age should get a flu vaccine this season, even if they had one last year.

Vaccination of high risk persons is especially important in order to decrease their risk of severe flu illness.  People at high risk of serious flu complications include:

  • young children,
  • pregnant women,
  • people with chronic health conditions like asthma, diabetes or heart and lung disease,
  • people younger than five years (and especially those younger than two),
  • and people 65 years and older.

The CDC states: “It has been recognized for many years that people 65 years and older are at greater risk of serious complications from the flu compared with young, healthy adults. It’s estimated that 90 percent of seasonal flu-related deaths and more than 60 percent of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations in the United States each year occur in people 65 years and older. This is because human immune defenses become weaker with age. So influenza can be a very serious disease for people 65 and older.”

Based on 2,356 total flu related hospitalizations in the U.S. during October 2, 2011–April 28, 2012:

  • 274 occurred among persons aged 0–4 years,
  • 195 among persons aged 5–17 years,
  • 526 among persons aged 18–49 years,
  • 423 among persons aged 50–64 years,
  • and 938 among persons aged  65 years and older.

Vaccination is also important for healthcare workers, and others who live with or care for high-risk people, in order to keep from spreading the flu to them.

Consider your vaccine options

Flu Shot vs. Nasal Spray: My children (7 and 10) and I now choose to get the flu vaccine in mist form each year. Before the flu mist, my children agonized over getting the flu shot. Truthfully, I hated it too. But we have no qualms about the nasal spray!  It is painless and approved for use in healthy people two through 49 years of age, who are not pregnant. Even people who live with or care for those in a high risk group—including healthcare workers—can safely use the spray. The one exception is healthcare workers who care for people with severely weakened immune systems and who require a protected hospital environment; these care givers should get the inactivated flu vaccine (flu shot).

Fluzone High-Dose: An influenza vaccine developed specifically for people 65 years and older, Fluzone High-Dose contains a higher dose of antigen in the vaccine and is supposed to give older people a better immune response, and therefore, better protection against flu. More information about Fluzone High-Dose is available on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) web site. Talk to your health care provider to decide which one is right for you.

Have a plan for prevention

Follow these simple tips that can help everyone stay well this year:

  • Wash your hands often, especially before you eat
  • Get a flu shot
  • Stay away from others who are sick
  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water
  • Stay on a regular exercise routine to help keep your immune system strong
  • Get plenty of sleep (at least seven to eight hours)
  • Eat healthy foods such as colorful fruits and vegetables, to help boost your immune system

Where to get the flu vaccine

Flu vaccines are offered in many locations, including doctor’s offices, clinics, health departments, pharmacies and college health centers, as well as by many employers, and even in some schools.

Even if you don’t have a regular doctor or nurse, you can get a flu vaccine somewhere else, like a health department, pharmacy, urgent care clinic, and often your school, college health center, or work. The Department of Health and Human Services has a Widget that can help you locate a site near you. Simply enter your ZIP Code for information on locations, types of vaccines offered, cost (your insurance might cover it) and when they are open. Here is a link to the county website with flu clinic schedules: www.co.morton.nd.us/index.asp?Type=B_BASIC&SEC={60FB344A-CAB4-46D9-B1DF-F1EF1B1C1038}

If you are at an increased risk of getting pneumonia, a complication of the flu, talk to your healthcare provider about getting the pneumococcal vaccine to help protect you against pneumonia.

When to prepare for this flu season

The last flu season came earlier in the season than expected. According to health experts, the flu vaccine remains the best option to reduce the risk of contracting the virus. The flu season can start as early as the end of September and usually runs for about 12 to 15 weeks.

“We don’t yet know how severe this year’s flu season will be, but we’re preparing now to try and confront it head on,” says Dr. Brian Currie, infectious disease specialist, and vice president and medical director for research at Montefiore Medical Center. “We continue to strongly encourage everyone to get their flu [vaccine] early in the season.”

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