Protect yourself and others — get the flu vaccine
The flu hit early and hard this season, and the outbreak has yet to run its course. We don’t know how long it will last or how many people will be infected, but it’s not too late to take preventive action.
The flu season usually peaks in January or February, but we began seeing a high number of influenza-related hospitalizations in early December. Through the week ending Jan. 5, Ohio has seen nearly 2,000 flu-associated hospitalizations, compared to 86 during the same time period last season and 175 two seasons ago, according to the Ohio Department of Health.
The yearly flu vaccine is still the first and most important step in protecting against the flu virus. It takes about two weeks for the vaccine to become effective. Contact your healthcare provider as soon as possible to receive the vaccine.
Studies at the Centers for Disease Control indicate that this year’s vaccine lowers the risk of getting the flu by about 60 percent. Remember that you are not only receiving the vaccine to protect yourself but also to protect others with whom you come in contact.
Contrary to a popular and persistent notion, you cannot get the flu from a flu shot because the viruses in the shot are inactive. Over the years, millions of Americans have been safely vaccinated against the flu. A nasal-spray flu vaccine offers an alternative to the flu shot for healthy people ages 2 through 49 who are not pregnant.
Everyone 6 months of age and older should get a flu vaccine, but vaccination is especially important for people at high risk for complications. These include the following: pregnant women; people age 65 and older; people with certain chronic medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes and heart or lung conditions; people living in nursing homes and long-term care facilities; and people — such as caregivers of young children and healthcare workers — who live with or care for those at high risk.
Even if you have already had the flu but have not received the vaccine, vaccination can still add protection against additional strains.
For most people this season, the flu is lasting anywhere from three days to two weeks and has one or more of the following symptoms: fever and chills, fatigue, an “achy” feeling, congestion, headaches and coughing.
In addition to the flu shot, everyday behaviors can stop the spread of flu germs. These include frequent hand-washing, avoiding close contact with sick people, covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze (the tissue should then be discarded), cleaning and disinfecting surfaces that may be contaminated with flu germs and avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
If you happen to get the flu, certain prescription medications can shorten its duration, mitigate symptoms and prevent serious complications. These antiviral drugs work best when taken within two days of getting sick, but starting them later can still be helpful. Tamiflu and Relenza are two antiviral drugs recommended by the Centers for Disease Control. They should not be considered a substitute for vaccination but used in addition to it.
Dr. Jessica Long is a family medicine physician with Sunbury Family Practice and a member of the OhioHealth Grady Memorial Hospital medical staff.