“You don’t have to be 80 or eight to die from the flu,” said Dr. Nathan Schlicher at St. Joseph Medical Center’s Emergency Services Department.
Influenza causes thousands of deaths and hospitalizations every year. The flu claimed 18,000 lives around the nation last year; 31 of them in Pierce County, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Getting a flu vaccine is the best way to prevent getting sick – or getting others sick. Although people can get the flu anytime during the year, the flu season generally runs from October through February, with a sharp peak in December and January. Some flu seasons are also worse than others either in severity or in overall cases, and there is no way to predict how severe the flu season will be.
“I have yet to find a ‘good’ flu season,” Schlicher said about the seasonal spike of flu cases in emergency rooms. “It’s going to be a tough winter no matter what.”
For the best protection against catching the flu, people should get vaccinated as soon as possible each fall since the annual vaccination changes every year to best combat the most widespread strain of the virus. The general effectiveness of the particular flu vaccine depends on the match between the flu vaccine and the types of flu viruses that are circulating. If there is a good match, the flu vaccine is usually more than 60 percent effective in healthy adults. Flu vaccine is generally somewhat less effective in elderly persons and very young children, but vaccination can still prevent serious complications, especially for people with underlining health conditions such as asthma or compromised immune systems.
Everyone six months and older should get a flu vaccine each year. On top of getting a flu shot, people should also wash their hands frequently, cover their mouths when they sneeze or cough and simply stay home when they are sick to not only speed up their recovery but limit the spread of their ailment.
Symptoms of the flu include fevers of more than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or feelings of fever and chills along with coughing, sore throat and runny nose with muscle aches and possibly vomiting or diarrhea. Medications can help ease symptoms and reduce the risk of death if treatments begin early enough in the process.
The Flu You Knew
Flu Myth #1: The flu shot gives you the flu.
Fact: Flu shots cannot give you the flu. Some people experience a mild reaction to the injection that may last a few hours or up to a day, but it is not flu illness. It does take about two weeks for the body to build up protection against flu viruses after the shot, so during that time people are able to get sick. Many other viruses also circulate around the time people get a flu vaccine.
Flu Myth #2: You can’t spread the flu when you don’t feel sick.
Fact: The flu can spread to other people days before a person even knows he or she is sick. The flu spreads easily from person to person by coughing and sneezing and can spread by touching infected surfaces.
Flu Myth #3: Children and adults are contagious for the same amount of time.
Fact: Adults can infect others one day before symptoms develop and up to five days after becoming sick. Kids can spread the virus for 10 or more days.
Flu Myth #4: Past infection makes you immune.
Fact: Viruses that cause flu change frequently. People who have had the flu or a flu shot in previous years may become infected with a new strain. That is why it is so important to get a new flu vaccine every year.
Flu Myth #5: Flu is annoying but can’t do major harm.
Fact: The flu is unpredictable and can be severe, especially for older people, young kids, pregnant women, and people with certain health conditions. These groups are at greater risk for serious complications if they get the flu, including: bacterial pneumonia; ear infections; sinus infections; dehydration; worsening of chronic medical conditions such as asthma, congestive heart failure, or diabetes.
Visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at www.cdc.gov/flu or the U.S. Health and Human Services at www.flu.gov for more information about the flu, or the Tacoma Pierce County Health Department at TPCHD.org for local resources.