By the Niagara County Health Department
The flu virus tends to spread from October to May. Flu viruses are detected year-round, including at lower levels during the summer months. Vaccinations can be given at any time during the flu season; even getting a vaccination later in the season (December through March) can still help protect you from influenza.
Influenza is a highly contagious viral infection of the respiratory tract (nose, throat and lungs). The flu is often confused with the common cold, but flu signs and symptoms tend to develop quickly (usually one to four days after a person is exposed to the virus), and are usually more severe than the typical sneezing and congestion associated with a cold. Influenza signs and symptoms include fever, headache, extreme tiredness, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose and muscle aches. Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea are also common signs and symptoms in children. Influenza can cause mild to severe illness and, at times, can lead to death.
Most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop, and up to five to seven days after becoming sick. Some people, especially young children and people with weakened immune systems, might be able to infect others for an even longer time. A person infected with the flu virus will typically suffer from the illness for approximately seven to 10 days. When that average is applied nationwide, the flu and its complications lead to more than 200,000 hospital stays per year and tens of thousands of deaths (primarily in the elderly). Each year, between 10 and 20 percent of the U.S. population is infected with the virus.
An annual flu vaccination can help prevent the spread of influenza. The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months and older get vaccinated against the flu every year. Infants younger than 6 months old are too young to be vaccinated. Protect them by getting yourself, other children, family members and close contacts vaccinated. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection against the flu. The CDC recommends people get vaccinated against flu soon after vaccine becomes available, and if possible, by October.
Children have the highest chance of getting sick from the flu and often spread the germs throughout their communities. Children between 6 months and 8 years of age may need two doses of flu vaccine to be fully protected from flu. The two doses should be given at least four weeks apart. Your child's doctor or other health care professional can tell you whether your child needs two doses. If your child does need two doses of vaccine to be fully protected, it is a good idea to begin the vaccination process sooner rather than later.
In addition to getting a seasonal flu vaccine, you can take the following everyday preventive actions:
•Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
•If you or your child gets sick with flu-like illness, stay home for at least 24 hours after the fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities.
•While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them.
•Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash afterward.
•Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
•Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
•Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs like the flu.
Antiviral drugs can be used to treat flu illness when begun within 48 hours of getting sick. People at high risk of serious flu complications (such as children younger than 2, adults 65 and older, pregnant women and people with certain medical conditions) and people who are very sick with flu should get antiviral drugs. Some other people can be treated with antivirals at their health care professional's discretion. Treating high-risk people or people who are very sick with flu with antiviral drugs is very important. Studies show prompt treatment with antiviral drugs can prevent serious flu complications.
Even if you have been vaccinated, it is still possible to get sick with the flu (although you won't know for sure unless you get a flu test). This is possible for the following reasons:
•You may be exposed to a flu virus shortly before getting vaccinated or during the period that it takes the body to gain protection after getting vaccinated. This exposure may result in you becoming ill with flu before the vaccine begins to protect you.
•You may be exposed to a flu virus that is not included in the seasonal flu vaccine. There are many different flu viruses that circulate every year. The flu vaccine is made to protect against the three or four flu viruses that research suggests will be most common.
Unfortunately, some people can become infected with a flu virus the flu vaccine is designed to protect against, despite getting vaccinated. Protection provided by flu vaccination can vary widely, based in part on health and age factors of the person getting vaccinated. In general, the flu vaccine works best among healthy younger adults and older children. Some older people and people with certain chronic illnesses may develop less immunity after vaccination.
Flu vaccination is not a perfect tool, but it is the best way to protect against flu infection.