Flu season is here and every person six months old and older should take precautions to avoid getting sick. Flu season runs from October through May but the peak season is December to March.
What is the Flu?
Influenza, also known as the flu, is a viral infection causing acute respiratory sickness. The two common strains of influenza are types A and B but there are many subtypes. The prevalence and activity of these subtypes are what determine the exact composition of the vaccine each year. Although the vaccine doesn’t necessarily change each year, the strains are closely monitored and assessed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Millions of people in the United States get sick each year from the flu. Annually, it is estimated that somewhere between 100,000 – 200,000 people are hospitalized due to the flu and its complications. The number of deaths from flu varies each year, from 3,000 to 49,000, depending on the severity of the influenza season.
The most common symptoms of flu are fever, headache, extreme tiredness, dry cough, sore throat, stuffy nose and muscle aches. Stomach and intestinal symptoms (nausea, vomiting and diarrhea) can occur, but they are most common in children and are actually often caused by infections other than the flu. The flu tends to begin and get worse quicker than the common cold and involves a higher fever.
Influenza vaccination is the best way to avoid getting the flu.
Best Time to Get Vaccine
“The best time to receive flu vaccination is October and November,” said Kathleen Tajeu, a community health specialist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. Adequate protection, which lasts about six months, develops about two weeks after vaccination. Especially anyone living with or caring for an infant younger than six months of age – or anyone caring for persons with weakened immune systems – should get a flu vaccine. Children younger than six months are at a higher risk of serious flu complications, but they are too young to get a flu vaccine. Therefore, safeguarding them from the flu is especially important.
Children receiving the vaccination for the first time will require two doses. Anyone in any of the high risk groups should also get vaccinated as soon as possible.
Two methods are available for administering the flu vaccine: intramuscular injection (killed virus) and nasal spray vaccine. Injection is the typical way to receive the flu vaccination. The vaccine is injected into the muscle of the upper arm in an adult and the thigh of a child. People six months and older can receive the injection, and it is quick and nearly painless.
The mist vaccination is sprayed into the nose with a syringe-looking plunger. One-half the dose is delivered into each nostril. As of 2014, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends use of the nasal spray vaccine for healthy children ages 2 through 8, if it is immediately available and if the child has no contraindications or precautions to that vaccine. Do NOT delay vaccination while trying to find the nasal spray flu vaccine.
Children or adolescents receiving aspirin therapy should not receive the intranasal vaccine. Anyone with severe allergic reactions to any component of the mist should not use this form of vaccine.
“The good news is that those people who avoid flu vaccines because of their dislike for needles have a needle-free option,” Tajeu said.
Side Effects of Vaccine
With the injection vaccination, most side effects are mild and commonly include injection site soreness for up to two days, some fever and muscle aches. Runny nose, nasal congestion, sore throat, headache, muscle aches and cough are common side effects of the intranasal vaccine.
The flu is usually spread by person-to-person contact. An infected person may send the virus into the air on small water droplets by coughing, sneezing or even talking. The droplets then make contact with a mucous membrane (mouth, nose, eyes), and the virus quickly takes hold and begins to multiply. Once the virus has landed, symptoms typically begin in two days but can begin up to four days later. An infected person may be contagious from one day before symptoms begin to seven days after becoming sick.