The Flu Vaccine Is Needed Each Year

Influenza, or flu, is a very contagious virus that causes respiratory illness. It can range from a mild infection to a very serious infection, especially in the very young, elderly, pregnant and people with complicating diseases such as diabetes, cancer, asthma and heart disease.

Seasonal influenza viruses can be detected year round but are most common in the fall and winter. Influenza activity normally begins to increase in October and peaks between December and February, and it can last as late as May.

The influenza virus is spread from person to person through coughing, sneezing or talking. The droplets can spread to others up to six feet away.

People with the flu can be contagious a day or so before symptoms of the illness begin and up to five to seven days after symptoms. The Centers for Disease Control’s preliminary data for the 2018/2019 flu season shows that there were at least 37.4 million flu illnesses! That’s 17.3 million flu related medical visits, 531,000 hospitalizations due to the flu and at least 36,400 flu related deaths.

Common symptoms of the flu include fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, body aches, headaches and tiredness. Rarely do people experience vomiting and diarrhea; these symptoms are more common in children than adults.

It can be difficult to differentiate between the flu and the common cold; both are respiratory illnesses with similar symptoms. The flu usually has a more abrupt onset than a cold. Fever, aches, and chills are also more common the flu.

To confirm whether you have the flu or not, there are several different types of tests that can be performed, all of them will require a health care provider to swipe the inside of your nose or throat. Rapid influenza detection tests are often used for quick results, although a negative rapid test does not rule out the flu.

Often patients in the outpatient setting who display flu symptoms are not tested because the result will most likely not change treatment unless it is caught very early on. Antiviral drugs can be prescribed for patients diagnosed with the flu, they have only shown to have a benefit if started within two days of getting sick.

The best advice? The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months and older should get a flu vaccine every flu season. The CDC estimates that the flu vaccine prevented 5.3 million influenza illnesses, 2.6 million flu-associated medical visits, and 85,000 flu related hospitalizations during the 2016/2017 flu season.

The flu vaccine helps protect women during and after pregnancy and passes antibodies to the baby to help protect the baby from the flu after birth. The flu vaccine significantly reduces a child’s risk of dying from influenza.

The yearly flu vaccine will protect against three or four viruses that research suggests will be the most common strains for the flu season. There are many different brands of the flu vaccine, the CDC does not recommend one over the other.

This year, three-component vaccines will contain a H3N2, H1N1, and a B virus. The four-component, or quadrivalent, vaccines contain an additional B Virus component. At Penn Highlands Healthcare, we offer the quadrivalent vaccine to our patients.

There is also a high-dose vaccine available for extra protection for those 65 and older. This vaccine contains a higher dose of each virus strain giving patients 65 and over extra protection from the flu. Penn Highlands Healthcare also carries the high-dose flu vaccine.

And there are “egg-free” flu vaccines available for those with an egg allergy. Because standard flu vaccines are manufactured using virus grown in eggs, patients with a true egg allergy could have a reaction to the standard version.

The flu vaccine works by causing antibodies to develop in your immune system, this occurs about two weeks after vaccination. Side effects from the flu vaccine are usually mild, and most common side effects can include soreness or redness from the shot, headache, fever, nausea and mild muscle aches. Signs of an allergic reaction should be monitored for after receiving the vaccine. This includes difficulty breathing, wheezing, hives, swelling around the lips or eyes, fast heart beat or dizziness. Severe or life threatening reactions are very rare and would normally occur soon after getting the vaccine.

The best way to prevent the flu is to get vaccinated annually, but healthy habits can also help.

Avoid close contact with those that are sick and distance yourself from others when you are sick. Stay home from work, school and going out in public if you are sick.

Always cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing to prevent the spread of germs. Avoid touching your eyes, mouth or nose to prevent germ spread.

Be sure to clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces at home, work and school.

Good hand washing habits and alcohol-based hand sanitizer are also important in the protection from illnesses like the flu.

And if you have any questions about the flu or the flu vaccine, feel free to reach out to your healthcare provider or local pharmacists, including us in the Penn Highlands Community Pharmacy, DuBois, or McCabe Drug, Reynoldsville.

In addition to physician offices, both Penn Highlands pharmacy locations are offering flu shots – covered by your insurance or $40 cash – if you walk in. Flu shot clinics are being held from 12-4 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 16, at PH Community Pharmacy and from 2-6 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 15, at McCabe. It will be staffed to be quick and offer other health information.

Pharmacists will also be available to anyone who walks in from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Friday, at the PH Community Pharmacy or 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday or 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at McCabe throughout the fall and flu season.