Prevent the Flu
Posted by Trish Shuler, BSN, RN, Freeman Infection Prevention Officer, on January 07, 2016
Flu vaccination can keep you from getting sick, and, if you do get sick, it can make your illness milder. Getting vaccinated isn’t just about protecting yourself – when you are vaccinated, you are also protecting the people around you who may be more vulnerable to serious flu illness than you are, such as older adults, people with chronic health conditions and young children (especially infants younger than 6 months old who are too young to get vaccinated). Taking steps to prevent the spread of flu helps ensure that you and your loved ones may enjoy a happy and healthy winter season.
What do we need to know about this year's flu season?
First, know the steps that you can take to prevent the spread of flu! Second, know that the timing of flu is unpredictable. It strikes at different times each season, and it may not hit every region of the country at the same time. Typically, most activity occurs between October and May, with a peak between December and February. Best practice is to prevent the spread of germs all year long.
Third, know that you may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick. Symptoms usually start between one and four days after the virus has entered the body, but most healthy adults can infect other people starting a day before any symptoms develop. Some infected people experience no symptoms at all, but they are still able to spread the virus to others. After becoming sick, adults may be contagious for up to seven days (while children may be contagious for even longer). This is one reason vaccination is so important!
Who should get a flu shot?
It’s recommended that everyone 6 months and older get an annual flu vaccination, with rare exceptions. Children under 6 months of age are too young for a flu shot. The shot is also generally not appropriate for people with severe, life-threatening allergies to flu vaccine or any ingredient in the vaccine (such as gelatin or antibiotics).
What about people with egg allergies? Should they get vaccinated against flu?
Most, but not all, types of flu vaccine contain a small amount of egg. People who have ever had a severe allergic reaction to eggs generally have two options. Those over the age of 18 may get recombinant flu vaccine, which is 100% egg-free, or they can get the regular flu shot, but have it administered by a medical doctor with experience in managing severe allergic conditions.
People who have had a mild reaction to egg – that is, one which only involved hives – may get a flu shot with additional safety measures. Recombinant flu vaccines are an option for these individuals as well if they are 18 years or older and they do not have any contraindications to that vaccine.
As always, tell your doctor or healthcare professional about any of your allergic reactions.
Who is most susceptible to the flu?
People with the highest risk of complication from influenza are those with asthma, diabetes, heart disease, HIV, AIDS or cancer; those who have experienced a stroke; those who are pregnant; those who are over 65 years old; and those who are under 5 years old (especially those under 2 years old).
Does it matter if a patient gets the shot or the mist?
The flu shot and the mist protect against the flu. However, the mist is not approved for all people, including those who are younger than 2 or older than 50. Other people who cannot get the spray include:
- People with a history of severe allergic reaction to any component of the vaccine or to a previous dose of any influenza vaccine
- People who are allergic to eggs
- Children 2 years through 17 years of age who are receiving aspirin therapy or aspirin-containing therapy.
- Pregnant women
- People with weakened immune systems (immunosuppression)
- Children 2 years through 4 years who have asthma or who have had a history of wheezing in the past 12 months
- People who have taken influenza antiviral drugs within the previous 48 hours
- People who care for severely immunocompromised persons who require a protective environment (or otherwise avoid contact with those persons for 7 days after getting the nasal spray vaccine)
Talk to your doctor if you have asthma; chronic conditions like lung or heart disease; kidney, liver, neurologic/neuromuscular or metabolic disorders or Guillain-Barre Syndrome.
What steps can we take to prevent the spread of the flu?
To help stop the spread of germs:
- Get your flu shot
- Wash your hands often with soap and warm water for 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth
- Stay home when you are sick
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick
Also, remember to practice other good health habits: clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work or school, especially when someone is ill; get plenty of sleep; be physically active; manage your stress; drink plenty of fluids and eat nutritious food.