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FLU

We are now seeing an increase in patients presenting with influenza and it is predicted that we are likely to see many more.

Influenza, the name of the virus for which the “flu” season is named, causes a highly contagious respiratory infection which often starts very quickly and may cause the following symptoms:

– Fever, headache, and extreme fatigue.

– Cough, sore throat, and runny or stuffy nose.

– Body aches, and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea.

As opposed to influenza, a bad cold — often referred to as an upper respiratory infection — may have symptoms of nasal and sinus congestion, a sore throat, and ear pressure. Bronchitis may have a very bothersome nagging cough, but neither of these illnesses are likely to have symptoms of fever or body aches as influenza does.

The flu can cause mild to severe illness and occasionally can lead to death. Most healthy people who contract the flu recover without complications. However, some people — especially the elderly or the very young, as well as those with chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and asthma, are at a high risk for serious complications of the flu.

One of the most deadly side effects of the flu is pneumonia which is a very serious lung infection.

The flu usually spreads from person to person from respiratory droplets when one who is affected coughs or sneezes. It also often spreads by touching some object that has the influenza virus on it and then touching one’s mouth, nose, or eyes.

A person coming down with the flu is contagious from one day prior to showing any symptoms and remains contagious for at least five days after the symptoms begin.

Although it has been reported that this year’s flu vaccine has not been very effective against the prevailing H3N2 strain of flu, experts still recommend getting the shot as it seems to add some protection. As it is said; “something is better than nothing.”

This vaccine is approved for use in people older than 6 months of age.

Almost everyone can benefit from the flu shot, but it is highly recommended for the following groups:

– Pregnant women and children younger than five years.

– People 50 years of age and older and those with chronic medical conditions.

– Those who live in nursing homes or other long term care facilities.

– People who work or live with those at high risk for complications of the flu.

The flu shot contains a dead virus which will cause a person’s immune system to create antibodies to help prevent one from getting infected, or at least to help lessen the effects of an infection.

It’s still worth considering, and not too late. Flu season can last well into springtime.

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flushot

It’s time for me to make my annual plea for everyone to get their flu shot. In today’s column, I’d like to answer common questions I hear about influenza and the flu shot.

– Can’t I get the flu from the flu shot?

This is a very common myth and proven to be wrong. You cannot catch the flu from the flu vaccine. The flu vaccines that are given by needle are made with viruses that are killed (inactivated), and cannot cause an influenza infection.

– I’ve had the flu shot previously and I got the flu anyhow.

This is possible, but not likely, in that no vaccine is 100 percent effective.

– I’ve never had a flu shot and have never had the flu.

Consider yourself lucky, and as in most cases, one’s luck will usually wear out. Don’t take a chance, this could be the year.

– The flu is no big deal.

Tell that to those who have not survived a bout of influenza, or to the worker who misses a week or more of work, as well as the student missing time from school. Besides, having the flu can make you feel very miserable.

– I worry that it could be harmful to my baby/child to have yet another vaccination.Babies have a higher incidence of death due to influenza. There is no proof that the flu vaccine worsens or changes the effects of the other routine childhood vaccinations. The recommendation is that everyone from six months of age and older should receive the flu vaccine.

– I have already gave a chronic disease and I take lots of medications. Do I really need a flu shot too?

All the more reason to receive a flu shot since the flu is the most deadly for those with chronic medical conditions.

– I have a tremendous fear of getting a shot.

The flu vaccine is available as a nasal spray and is approved for those between the ages of 2 to 49 years of age. It has been proven to be more effective than the shot in children 2 to 8 years of age. The viruses used to develop the nasal spray flu vaccine are alive but weakened (attenuated).

– I’m pregnant, won’t a flu shot harm my baby?

Not only has the flu vaccine injection been proven to be safe during pregnancy, but is highly recommended for pregnant women in any trimester of pregnancy. Only the injection form of flu vaccine and not the nasal spray should be used in pregnancy.

– I’m 35 years old and healthy, do I really need a flu shot?

In 2009-10, the swine flu (H1N1 virus) took a particularly heavy toll on the age group 18 to 64 years of age. Better safe than sorry.

– Any reason I absolutely shouldn’t get a flu shot?

There are a few reasons, the most common being a prior allergic reaction to a flu shot or a severe allergy to eggs. The vaccine should be delayed if you have an illness with a fever.

– When should I get the shot?

The flu season typically begins as early as October and can last until late spring. Flu shots are currently available and I advise getting it sooner rather than later. It takes about two weeks after receiving the shot for it to become effective.

– Where can I get a flu shot?

Most major pharmacies such as Rite Aid, Walgreens and CVS, provide flu shots on a drop- in basis, as well as through most primary care doctor’s offices. Larger medical groups such as mine, the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, will have special drop in flu clinic days. For children, call your child’s primary care provider to find out how they are to receive a flu vaccination.

– How much will a flu shot cost me?

For most people it is free, either because they have a government insurance plan such as MediCare or MediCruz, or they have private insurance. For those who have no such coverage, the out-of-pocket cost of flu vaccine is between $30 to $50 depending on which vaccine is given.

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I would like to make my annual plea for everyone to get a flu shot.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is a good supply of the vaccine available this year, enough for 135 million doses.

Influenza, commonly called the flu, is unpredictable. During the 2009-10 season the “swine flu” was a pandemic, causing thousands of hospitalizations and many deaths worldwide.

It is estimated that during an average flu season, 250,000 to 500,000 people die worldwide from complications of the flu. Although last year’s flu season was relatively mild, there were still numerous deaths, including 35 children who died of influenza in the U.S.

This year’s vaccine contains two new strains, plus the same H1N1 as last year. Children 6 months and older and almost all adults should be vaccinated, starting now. The vaccine’s effectiveness should last all season. Children 8 years and younger need two doses only in the first year they are vaccinated.

Flu shots are safe at any stage of pregnancy and are especially important for expectant mothers, as they are much more likely to have a serious illness resulting from the flu and could thus be more likely to miscarry or have a premature delivery. A pregnant woman’s flu shot stimulates her immune system, creating antibodies that cross the placenta into the fetus. That protects her baby during the first six months after birth, before the infant is old enough to be vaccinated.

There’s no need to delay receiving the flu shot because of a mild illness, but don’t get a shot if you have a fever. Waiting until the fever is gone or until you’re feeling better after a more moderate or severe illness is the rule.

Many people worry that a flu shot might give them the flu. That is just not true. The viruses found in the flu shots have been inactivated (killed), and dead germs cannot cause illness. They do, however, stimulate the immune system to create antibodies to help prevent the flu.

The only people who should not get a flu shot are those who:

– Are allergic to egg products.

– Have already had a bad reaction to influenza vaccine (extremely rare).

– Have had an episode of a neurological disease called Guillain-Barre syndrome.

A few minor side effects may briefly occur from the flu shot, such as a mild ache and redness at the injection site, a low-grade fever and mild body aches.

I look at it this way: Why not get a vaccination that has minimal side effects and has a good chance at preventing an illness that could make you feel terrible for a week and also make you miss work? It’s a cheap form of health insurance.

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There’s an abundance of hype in the media these days concerning the safety and necessity of the H1N1 swine flu vaccine.

There are those who oppose any type of immunization, those who believe in conspiracy theories and those who just don’t trust science-based medicine. And, of course, there are many individuals who have a justifiable worries about anything that is new and possibly not adequately tested.

The fact is that this H1N1 vaccine uses the same technology, processes and facilities that are used to make the yearly seasonal flu vaccine, which, over the past 30 years, has proven to be reliable and safe.

The H1N1 vaccine has been tested extensively, and so far, no significant side effects have been noted. The only difference between this vaccine and the yearly flu vaccine is that the H1N1 vaccine targets a different strain of the influenza virus.

We must remember that any time a new drug or therapy is tested on thousands of individuals, it eventually comes to market to treat millions of people. Overall, we have a very good track record of providing new drugs to those who benefit greatly from them.

Smallpox, which was a scourge of the world, has been virtually eliminated by a vaccine. Polio, measles, mumps and rubella have been controlled where vaccinations are available.

Physicians constantly grapple with the concept of risk versus benefit when treating patients. As with life in general, there are no absolute guarantees in medicine, but I believe the benefit of preventing complications from H1N1 flu outweighs the risk of the vaccine itself.

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