Flu shots are already available at many pediatrician offices throughout the St. Louis area. The official recommendation of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is that everyone over age 6 months should get the flu vaccine. The physicians at Esse Health endorse this approach and will be making sure that they and the Esse Health office staff are also vaccinated in order to protect our patients as well as themselves. Think of the flu vaccine as protection for the person receiving it, but also as indirect protection for those people who might be exposed to you if you were to get the flu.
Below are a few of the most frequently asked questions and answers about the flu:
What is the flu? The influenza (flu for short) is a respiratory virus that usually hits in the winter months. There are multiple strains of it and each year different strains show up as the viruses change and modify. The illness usually presents as a very achy cold and cough with fever. Usual symptoms include a sore throat, headache and major lack of energy. Often there is an upset stomach at the beginning. Fever and feeling bad typically lasts for several days. There is a lingering cough at the end, which may persist for weeks as it gradually goes away. Complications of ear infection and pneumonia can add to the seriousness of the illness in some cases.
Who should have the highest priority for receiving the flu vaccine? The groups most susceptible to influenza complications are designated as highest priority. These include: young children; all family members, household contacts, and out-of-home care providers of children younger than 5 years; children with asthma, diabetes, neurologic diseases; healthcare personnel; and pregnant women.
When the flu is going around, what can I do to lesson my chances of getting it? Mostly it’s common sense stuff: cover your nose and mouth when you cough (elbow preferred over hands). Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap is not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub. Avoid close contact with sick people. If you are sick with fever, stay home for at least 24 hrs after your fever is gone before heading out in public.
What about antiviral medicines for the flu? There are two antiviral medicines (Tamiflu and Relenza) that are used sometimes with the flu, depending on how sensitive the particular strain is to the medicine. These medicines have the ability to shorten the course of the illness by a day or two and make the illness milder, but only if they are given very early in the illness. They are expensive medicines, but certainly have a place in the treatment, especially in patients who may be at high risk for complications of the influenza.
How many flu shots are recommended this year? Usually just one. However, for certain children age 6 months to 8 years old there may be two doses a month apart, depending on how many shots they received in previous years.
Is the flu vaccine safe? YES! Flu vaccines have been repeatedly tested over many years and are extremely safe.
Can the flu vaccine give you the flu? No. The flu shot is a dead, killed virus incapable of causing disease. The nasal spray is a live virus, but it has been modified so that it cannot give you the flu.
Who can use the nasal spray vaccine? Flumist (a live virus vaccine with effectiveness as good as or better than the shot) is available for healthy people age 2 to 49 years old who do not have asthma or certain other excluding conditions.
For more information on the flu vaccine and for dates and times of Esse Health’s flu clinics, visit www.essehealth.com.