Flu Season is Here

October 14, 2008 10:05:01 AM PDT
The flu is a dangerous and potentially deadly lung disease caused by influenza viruses. Every year in the United States, on average:
  • 5% to 20% of the population gets the flu;
  • more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu complications
  • about 36,000 people die from the flu.
Some people, such as older people, young children, and people with certain health conditions, are at high risk for serious flu complications.

"At the Chicago Department of Public Health, we take the flu very seriously, says Health Commissioner Dr. Terry Mason. "That's why, in partnership with the Chicago Department of Senior Services and others, we are offering free flu shots at literally dozens of locations---now through the beginning of December."

Shots are given free of charge---although people enrolled in Medicare should bring their Medicare cards with them to the flu shot site.

To find the flu shot site nearest you, just call 311 or go online to cityofchicago.org/health. To find shots in the suburbs, please contact your county health department.

Symptoms of Flu

The flu usually starts suddenly and may include these symptoms:

  • fever (usually high)
  • headache
  • extreme tiredness
  • dry cough
  • sore throat
  • runny or stuffy nose
  • muscle aches
  • Stomach symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, also can occur but are more common in children than adults
Complications of Flu

Complications of flu can include bacterial pneumonia, dehydration, and worsening of chronic medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure, asthma, or diabetes. Children may get sinus problems and ear infections.

How Flu Spreads

Flu viruses spread in respiratory droplets caused by coughing and sneezing. They usually spread from person to person, though sometimes people become infected by touching something with flu viruses on it and then touching their mouth or nose. Most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 5 days after becoming sick. That means that you can pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick.

Preventing the Flu: Get Vaccinated

The single best way to prevent the flu is to get a flu vaccination each fall. There are two types of vaccines:

  • The "flu shot" -- an inactivated vaccine (containing killed virus) that is given with a needle. The flu shot is approved for use in people older than 6 months, including healthy people and people with chronic medical conditions.
  • The nasal-spray flu vaccine -- a vaccine made with live, weakened flu viruses that do not cause the flu. The spray is approved for use in healthy people 2 years to 49 years of age who are not pregnant.
About two weeks after vaccination, antibodies develop that protect against influenza virus infection. Flu vaccines will not protect against influenza-like illnesses caused by other viruses.

When to Get Vaccinated

October or November is a good time to get vaccinated, but getting vaccinated in December or even later can still be beneficial. Flu season can begin as early as October and last as late as May.

Who Should Get Vaccinated?

In general, anyone who wants to reduce their chances of getting the flu can get vaccinated. However, certain people should get vaccinated each year. They are either people who are at high risk of having serious flu complications or people who live with or care for those at high risk for serious complications. People who should get vaccinated each year are:

People at high risk for complications from the flu:

  • People 50 years and older;
  • People who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities that house those with long-term illnesses;
  • Adults and children 6 months and older with chronic heart or lung conditions, including asthma;
  • Adults and children 6 months and older who needed regular medical care or were in a hospital during the previous year because of a metabolic disease (like diabetes), chronic kidney disease, or weakened immune system (including immune system problems caused by medicines or by infection with human immunodeficiency virus [HIV/AIDS]);
  • Children 6 months to 18 years of age who are on long-term aspirin therapy. (Children given aspirin while they have influenza are at risk of Reye syndrome.);
  • Women who will be pregnant during the influenza season;
  • All children six months of age and older;
  • People with any condition that can compromise respiratory function or the handling of respiratory secretions (that is, a condition that makes it hard to breathe or swallow, such as brain injury or disease, spinal cord injuries, seizure disorders, or other nerve or muscle disorders.)
People who can transmit flu to others at high risk for complications.
  • Household contacts of people at high risk for flu complications (listed above).
  • Household contacts and home-based caregivers of children less than 6 months of age; and
  • Health care workers.
Who Should Not Be Vaccinated Some people should not be vaccinated or should wait before getting vaccinated. They include:
  • People who have a severe allergy to chicken eggs.
  • People who have had a severe reaction to an influenza vaccination in the past.
  • People who developed Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS) within 6 weeks of getting an influenza vaccine previously.
  • Children less than 6 months of age.
  • People who have a moderate or severe illness with a fever. (These people can get vaccinated once their symptoms lessen.)
Avoiding the Flu There also are simple steps you can take to avoid the flu virus:
  • Avoid direct contact with infected persons or contaminated surfaces, since a flu-causing virus can live on a hard surface or remain suspended in the air for hours.
  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and warm water. Teach children the same healthy habits.
  • Make an extra effort to clean commonly-touched surfaces, such as countertops, tables, doorknobs, telephones and TV/stereo remote controls.
  • Do not share anything that goes in the mouth, such as drinking cups and straws.
  • Eat more whole grains, vegetables and fruit, get enough rest and stay physically fit to help the body fight off disease.
  • Do not smoke, and reduce your exposure to secondhand smoke. Smoke impairs the ability of your mucus and cilia to trap dust and microbes that can carry flu viruses.
  • If you have the flu or any cold, do not infect others. Cover your nose and mouth when you cough and sneeze, and promptly discard used facial tissues
  • If you are ill, stay home from work or school until you recover.
For more information, contact the Chicago Health Department at http://egov.cityofchicago.org.


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