What You Need to Know About the Flu: Your Top Questions Answered (1/18/13)
Concerned about flu season? Wondering if you and your children should (or can still) get vaccinated? Saul Hymes, MD, Assistant Professor of Clinical Pediatrics and a specialist in pediatric infectious diseases with Stony Brook Long Island Children's Hospital, addresses the most common concerns about flu season and, more importantly, what you can do now to protect yourself and your children.
How serious is the flu this year?
The flu, or seasonal influenza virus, is extremely unpredictable. Its severity can vary widely from one season to the next depending on many things, including the strains of flu spreading, availability of vaccines, how many people get vaccinated and how well the flu vaccine is matched to the flu viruses circulating each season.
This year’s season has gotten a lot of press. In New York State specifically, 2,884 people have been hospitalized because of the flu, up from 1,169 last season (winter 2011-12). Two deaths in children in New York have been tied to the flu this season, since September 2012. Across the U.S., there were 34 reported deaths in children due to influenza last flu season. So far this season (September 2012-January 12, 2013) there have been 29 reported deaths in children. The flu season typically spans October through May, which means in looking at the numbers to date, this year’s season is more severe than last. Keep in mind that this is small compared to the millions of children and adults who contract the flu. Every year thousands of adults and a handful of children do die from it.
The bottom line: Take the flu seriously, take precautions, don’t worry too much, stay home if you are sick, and call your doctor if symptoms are severe or prolonged — or if you develop complications.
Who is at greatest risk?
Certain people are at greater risk for serious complications if they get the flu. This includes:
How can I protect myself?
Use common sense. This includes:
However, the easiest way to protect yourself and your children is to get vaccinated.
Are the influenza vaccines safe?
There are two flu vaccines and both are extremely safe:
Know that all of the vaccine side effects are mild and resolve within one to two days of the vaccine. Also note: the injectable vaccine no longer contains Thimerosal (mercury-containing compound) and the nasal vaccine never contained it. In rare cases, adults and children who receive the vaccine can have an allergic reaction.
Are the vaccines effective?
The influenza vaccine is very effective at preventing influenza overall as well as preventing severe disease and complications. This year, it is about 70 percent effective in preventing disease, which means that seven out of 10 people who receive a vaccine won’t get the flu. Even in years when the vaccine has been less well-matched against one or more of the circulating strains, the vaccine is still important in protecting against the other circulating strains.
Why should you get your influenza vaccine?
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that everyone over six months of age be vaccinated unless they have a known allergy to the flu vaccine. In addition, if you have a severe (life-threatening, with wheezing or throat narrowing) allergy to eggs or a history of Guillain-Barre syndrome (a neurologic disease) after a flu vaccine in the past, consult with your doctor before being vaccinated.
There are two main reasons to get vaccinated:
Vaccination helps protect you and those around you who cannot be vaccinated. All parents should be vaccinated to help protect their children. The flu vaccine is effective, safe, and it is not too late to get one!
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