The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says most people have been able to recover from the 2009 H1N1 and seasonal flu without needing medical care. But as the 2011 flu season gears up, it’s important to remember that the flu can be more serious, even deadly, for some groups of people. These include children who are younger than age 5, especially children younger than 2 years old. Adults 65 years of age and older, pregnant women and people with medical conditions such as asthma, chronic lung disease such as COPD, heart disease such as congestive heart failure and coronary artery disease and weakened immune systems due to disease or medication are also listed among the high-risk patients.
Getting a flu shot is the best way to avoid becoming sick.
“As always, we recommend an annual flu vaccine,” said Dr. Kraig Humbaugh, director of the Division of Epidemiology and Health Planning for the Kentucky Department for Public Health. “It can be the shot, the injectable form, or the nasal spray. The nasal spray is only indicated for healthy people ages 2 to 49 who are not pregnant. But everybody else, 6 months of age and older, can potentially take the injectable form.”
Health care workers should definitely get the vaccine so they do not pass the flu on to their patients.
There are very few people who have absolute contraindications to influenza vaccine. One major contraindication is allergy to eggs, since the vaccine is egg-based. “If you think that you do have a contraindication, you should always consult with your physician,” Humbaugh said.
It takes a couple of weeks for the vaccine to acheive adequate antibody levels. Some people are hesitant to get the vaccine because they are afraid they will contract the virus after receiving the preventive injection. Humbaugh disputes that assertion.
“There’s really no way to get flu from the vaccine injection because it’s not a live vaccine,” he said. “Even with the spray, it’s live, but it’s an attenuatedform of the virus.” Most likely people who get sick after they receive the injection were already incubating the flu or another type of viral illness that mimics the flu.
“If they’re incubating it and they get the vaccine, it’s not going to do much good because you really need that two-week period for the vaccine to produce the antibodies that protect you against flu,” Humbaugh said.
The flu season in Kentucky generally runs from November through April. Although the vaccine is available, it is generally recommended to administer it in late October in order to extend immunity into the early spring. When persons get the vaccine too early, they may have waning immunity in the spring. Providers are encouraged to keep making the vaccine available until the flu season ends. The Centers for Disease Control has ascertained that there is plenty of influenza vaccine available. While there are many different flu viruses, the 2011-2012 vaccine will protect against an influenza A H3N2 virus, an influenza B virus and the 2009 H1N1 virus.
“Vaccine supplies are starting to show up at providers’ offices and other venues as well as pharmacies,” Humbaugh said. “This is a great time to get your flu shot.”
By Tanya J. Tyler, Associate Editor, Kentucky Doc Magazine