Flu Prevention: Get an Early Start

Lisa M. Davila
October 6, 2011
Filed under Health & Wellness

Fever. Chills. Sore throat.  Add body aches and fatigue and you might have the flu. If spending a week in bed feeling miserable isn’t on your “to do” list of winter activities, prepare now.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that annual outbreaks of the seasonal flu usually occur during the late fall through early spring. “Late September and early October is when people start thinking about the flu. With the kids back in school and more people staying indoors because of cooler weather, we begin to see flu outbreaks spreading around the state,” says Greg Reed, program manager of the Center for Immunization at the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Unlike the 2009-2010 flu season, in which H1N1 was the predominant strain, two other types (H3 and B) made up approximately 55 percent of cases in Maryland during the 2010-2011 season. The rest were H1N1, according to the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH). [EDITOR: http://dhmh.maryland.gov/fluwatch/ ].


Never too early to prepare

Even while the weather’s still mild, flu viruses lurk—with sporadic reports of illness occurring across the state and the U.S. But it’s best to get vaccinated before widespread outbreaks start. “The flu vaccine should be available to people sometime in September,” Reed says.

Despite a vigorous vaccination campaign by the federal and state governments, some people procrastinate. “By the time January rolls around, many people forget about it even though flu season typically peaks from January through March,” Reed says. “It’s still worth it to get the vaccine, even very late in the season.”


A dubious past

There are people who are afraid to be vaccinated. Some of these fears may have arisen because of the 1976 flu vaccine campaign. In less than three months, over 40 million doses of vaccine were administered with the hope of curtailing an imminent swine flu pandemic—which never came about.

Within four months of the campaign’s start, the vaccines were suspended because more than 500 cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS—a rare neurological disease that causes muscle weakness and sometimes paralysis) were reported, including 25 deaths.  In 2004, the Institute of Medicine issued a report concluding that scientific evidence indicated that the 1976 swine flu vaccine may have caused GBS in some cases.


Today’s safer vaccines

Since the 1976 campaign, there has been no scientific evidence of an association between later flu vaccines and adverse effects, including GBS. Both the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continually monitor the safety of all vaccines.

Other people have concerns that the vaccines can cause the flu. But studies of millions of people have shown conclusively that this does not occur. The nasal spray form of the vaccine can, however, cause side effects including runny nose, cough, fatigue, sore throat or headache. These symptoms are typically mild and don’t last long.


If you’re still hesitant

Consider these facts:

•           More than 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu-related complications each year.

•           Approximately 23,600 people in the U.S. die each year from flu-related illness.

Getting the vaccine will lessen the chance that you’ll spread the virus to your family and friends, and will help protect those who are particularly vulnerable, like people with underlying health conditions, seniors, babies and children, and pregnant women.

“The most important thing you can do for your health and those around you is to get a flu vaccine early in the season,” Reed says. “Hand hygiene throughout the season is also paramount to prevention. If you don’t have access to soap and water, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.”

If you have any questions about whether you should get a flu shot, ask your healthcare provider.

For more information, check out www.flu.gov or DHMH [http://www.dhmh.maryland.gov/swineflu/]. Seasonal flu vaccination clinics are offered all over Maryland. Call your local health department for dates, times and locations.


Be a flu fighter

You can help the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene monitor our state’s flu activity by signing up for the Maryland Resident Influenza Tracking Survey. [http://www.marylandfluwatch.org/maryland-resident-flu-tracking]


Everyday prevention

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, follow these guidelines for good health during flu season.

Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze, or use an alcohol-based hand cleaner.

Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze or sneeze into the crook of your arm.  Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.

Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Viruses spread this way.

Avoid close contact with sick people.

Stay home if you are sick until at least 24 hours after you no longer have a fever (100°F or 37.8°C) or signs of a fever.

While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them.



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