The 2012-13 flu season is almost upon us again knocking on our doors. The best way the public can prepare is with sound advice and by getting the flu vaccine.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends flu vaccination for everyone above six months of age, beginning this month. The vaccine is already available in many locations including doctor's offices, clinics, pharmacies and school health centers. The 2012-13 vaccine is trivalent, which means it covers the three influenza strains that are expected to circulate in the community. This vaccine is also available in several different forms of delivery. Most commonly people are vaccinated with the intramuscular or nasal version of the vaccine.
For most of the population, if they don’t get vaccinated and acquire the flu, they would be sick for a period of time. However, certain groups of individuals may be vulnerable and susceptible to severe influenza-related complications including the possibility of death, including youngsters under age 5 or older than age 64. Also in the “high risk” group are individuals with certain chronic medical illness, such as patients with heart or lung disease, diabetes, liver or kidney diseases, or immunosuppressing illnesses. The influenza virus can lead to complications such as pneumonia, bacterial infection, dehydration, and hospitalization. We can prevent much of this morbidity and even mortality by vaccinating everyone over the age of 6 months!
We often hear the media spotlight other less common, exotic diseases (i.e. West Nile Virus) which often catch the “public eye.” But remember, each year it is the seasonal influenza virus which kills many more Americans than these unusual diseases. According to the CDC, influenza-related deaths can reach the tens of thousands in numbers!
Remember prevention is key - especially since the flu is so contagious. This virus can easily be transmitted through cough, sneezing and talking, and many are contagious before they even have obvious symptoms. People are often still contagious even when they are feeling better and symptoms are minimal to mild. I urge everyone to practice good hygiene and wash their hands often during the flu season, and avoid contact with others if possible when they are sick.
My take home message is “Let's spread the news about the vaccine and not spread the virus!” Valuable public health information can be obtained from the CDC at http://www.cdc.gov/Features/FLU/ or at http://www.flu.gov/
- Robert Hsiao, M.D., is an Internal Medicine physician at the GBMC at Hunt Manor practice (http://www.gbmc.org/huntmanor)