Preparing for the Flu Season
Though summer vacation and barbecues aren’t far behind us, as a physician for Molina Healthcare, I remind my patients that it is never too early to get vaccinated for the upcoming flu season. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that the public get vaccinated as soon as the new vaccine is offered since the antibodies take about two weeks to provide the full measure of protection. Even if you were vaccinated in years past, you should still get vaccinated because every year the vaccine is not only different, but also modified to protect against the flu strains most likely to be seen the coming season.
When does flu season start?
Flu season can begin as early as October, and typically lasts through May, peaking in January and February. Although the flu usually doesn’t hit until the fall, the CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO) – two organizations that determine the contents of the influenza vaccine to be developed each year – have been looking toward the next flu season for a while. This is because the vaccine manufacturing process begins six to nine months ahead of time to insure enough supply on hand.
Who should get vaccinated?
The CDC recommends that anyone over six months of age gets vaccinated, especially those at high risk for complications. This includes people with chronic medical conditions like asthma, diabetes and chronic lung disease, pregnant women, children between six and 23 months of age, anyone 65 or older and those who live with or care for those listed as high risk.
Who shouldn’t get the vaccine?
People with severe allergies, especially those with an allergy to eggs, should check with their doctors. Anyone who has had a severe reaction to influenza vaccine previously and anyone who has ever had Guillain-Barré Syndrome (a disorder where the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks its nervous system) should discuss vaccination with their doctors.
Know fact from fiction.
Many people think of the flu as a severe cold with short-term symptoms that may lead to a few lost work or school days. However, the truth is the seasonal flu can be a serious condition and even fatal in some cases. The seasonal flu hospitalizes 200,000 people in the United States each year and can kill between 3,000 and 49,000 people from complications caused by it. Some people are also afraid to get the vaccine because they believe it may cause the flu. However, injected flu vaccines only contain dead virus so it can’t infect you. The nasal vaccine, known as FluMist, is the one type of live virus flu vaccine, but this virus is specially engineered to remove the parts of the virus that make people sick.
What should you do?
Preventing the flu takes the same care as preventing other forms of illness. I advise my patients to practice good hand washing habits, avoid touching their faces when possible, and cover their mouths when they sneeze or cough. Symptoms of the flu range from mild to severe, but usually begin with a fever and body aches, and often include a cough and/or sore throat, headache, runny nose, fatigue and chills, and potential vomiting, nausea and/or diarrhea. In many cases, the flu will resolve on its own in four to 10 days with plenty of rest and liquids. If symptoms are severe, a doctor can prescribe antiviral medication to help lessen the duration and symptoms.
Take precautions when you are in public to prevent getting the flu, and don’t forget to get vaccinated to stay healthy this flu season.
Dr. Michael Siegel
Corporate vice president and medical director, Molina Healthcare, Inc.