As brilliant gold and red leaves fall from the trees, the majesty of winter is ushered in, along with…flu season. Flu season also coincides with the busiest travel period of the year, an unfortunate coincidence that according to the Walgreens Flu Impact Report, contributed to foiling the plans of over three million US vacations last year. The single best way to protect against the flu is to get the annual flu shot.
This year 43 percent of Americans plan to be immunized in hopes of warding off the flu, according to an interclick survey reported in Infection Control Today. The survey found more women (46%) than men (38%) will roll up their sleeves for the shot this year. Men would be well-advised to be immunized, however. Based on the interclick survey responses, doing so could potentially preserve marital peace. The Walgreens report noted one-third of women respondents think their spouse is very annoying or “a nightmare” when sick, while only 14 percent of men feel the same way.
What is the flu?
Influenza (the flu) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. The 2011-2012 flu vaccine was developed to protect against the three influenza viruses that research indicates will likely be most common during the current flu season. This includes the 2009 influenza A (H1N1) virus, an influenza A (H3N2) virus, and an influenza B virus.
Flu can peak anytime between October and April in the US, according to Walgreen’s chief medical officer, Cheryl Pegus. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), vaccination before December is best since this timing ensures that protective antibodies are in place before flu activity is typically at its highest.
Who should be vaccinated?
According to CDC, everyone should get a flu vaccine each flu season, but it is especially important that the following groups be vaccinated:
- Pregnant women
- Children 6 months old and older
- People 50 years old and older
- People of any age with certain chronic medical conditions
- People who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
- People who live with or care for those at high risk for complications from flu, including
- Health care workers
- Household contacts of persons at high risk for complications from flu
- Household contacts and out of home caregivers of children less than 6 months of age (these children are too young to be vaccinated)
- Try to minimize contact with others who are ill
- Wash your hands to reduce the spread of germs
- Disinfect commonly touched surfaces
- Stay home from work or school if you are sick and…
Help preserve your holiday vacation, your health and your marriage: Get a flu shot!
Ralph D. Morris, M.D., M.P.H., (of Ralph’s Closet Fame), is a semi-retired physician in northern Minnesota working as the Medical Director for Greater Northwest EMS and teaching online epidemiology at the University of North Dakota.
For more information on flu, please see www.fluandhealth.org.