The flu: It’s coming

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By Amy Sweere, Immunization/Vaccine Coordinator

 

It’s that time of year again. The leaves are changing colors, pumpkin spice is running rampant, and the influenza virus is getting ready to pounce. Tri-County Health Care and I want to make sure you’re equipped this season to prevent the spread of the virus.Shot of a young woman sick with the flu blowing her nose.

 

What is influenza?

Influenza, otherwise known as the flu, is a contagious respiratory illness that is caused by various viruses that affect the nose, throat and sometimes the lungs. These viruses can cause mild to severe illness and could lead to hospitalization and even death.

 

How does influenza spread?

Influenza virus is transmitted through the air or by direct contact with respiratory droplets from an infected person. You can pass the flu onto others before you even know you are sick. If you have the flu, you are most contagious in the first 3-4 days after your illness begins.

 

What are the symptoms?

You will begin experiencing symptoms 1-4 days after you are exposed to the virus. The onset of symptoms will be SUDDEN. The primary symptoms of influenza are cough, fever, chills, fatigue, headaches, muscle/ body aches, runny/stuffy nose and sore throat. Some people, mainly children, might also experience vomiting and diarrhea. People with the flu will often experience some or all of these symptoms.

 

People at risk for influenza and complications from influenza:

Anyone can get influenza, even healthy people! The risk for complications, hospitalization and death is higher for people age 65 or older, young children, and people of any age who have chronic medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes and heart disease. Pregnancy also increases the risk for serious medical complications from influenza.

 

When should you get vaccinated?

You should receive your influenza vaccination in late fall before the flu season begins. Once administered, the vaccine takes about two weeks for the antibodies to develop in the body and protect you from influenza. If you are traveling in the late summer or early fall, you should get the vaccine as soon as it is available.

 

Influenza misconceptions:Woman sick with the flu sneezing into a tissue.

  • The inactivated influenza vaccine cannot cause influenza. The injectable vaccine contains only dead virus fragments and therefore cannot cause influenza.
  • Less than 1 percent of people who are vaccinated may develop flu-like symptoms such as mild fever, muscle aches. These side effects are not the same as having influenza.
  • It takes about two weeks for immunity to build after being vaccinated. In that time, it is possible for people to be exposed to the virus and develop influenza before the vaccine becomes effective.
  • The “flu” is often perceived as any illness that causes a fever and cold symptoms or stomach symptoms. These symptoms may be blamed on the influenza vaccination, but they are caused by a different illness entirely.

 

You can help prevent the spread of the flu!

The best way to prevent the spread of influenza is to receive the vaccine. Here are other methods for preventing the spread:

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue or your sleeve whenever you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue away after you use it, and wash your hands!
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand cleaner, especially if you been coughing or sneezing.
  • Try not to touch your eyes, nose or mouth.
  • Stay away from others who are sick! If you are sick, avoid interacting with others, especially babies, children and the elderly.
  • If you get influenza, stay home from work or school for at least 24 hours after the fever has ended.

 

TCHC Flu Clinics

Tri-County is providing local residents the chance to receive the flu vaccine. Clinics will be held on the following dates:

  • Wadena – Tuesday, Oct. 9; Wednesday, Oct. 17 – 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
  • Sebeka – Wednesday, Oct. 10 – 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Verndale – Thursday, Oct. 11 – 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Ottertail – Monday, Oct. 15 – 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Bertha – Tuesday, Oct. 16 – 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Henning – Thursday, Oct. 18 – 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Pre-registration is encouraged by calling the clinic of your choice. Click here for more information.

 

Sources: Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Immunization Action Coalition

 

Amy Sweere, immunization and vaccine coordinator

About the Author: Amy has worked for Tri-County Health Care for almost seven years. Her roles include well child nurse, well child coordinator and vaccine coordinator. When she is not working, she helps her husband, Jeremy, on Pine Breeze Farms raising cattle and growing several types of crops. She enjoys watching her 21-year-old daughter, Riley, grow into an amazing adult. She also has a cat named Freddie Charles and a dog named Belle Rue.


Why should you get the flu vaccine?

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By Ben Hess, M.D., Chief Medical Officer

 

As we look ahead to peak influenza season in Minnesota, now is a good time to consider getting your annual flu vaccine. The vaccine is absolutely safe and can protect you from contracting the virus and suffering severe symptoms that can put you down and out for one to two weeks.

 

Cold and Flu Season Street SignAbout this year’s vaccine

This year’s vaccine contains four strains of influenza, including H1N1 or swine flu. The strains included in the vaccine change every year based on extensive research and well-documented flu migration patterns in other parts of the world.

On average, about once every seven years, there is a bad match or the virus changes from the time of production to when flu season actually arrives. This is why the vaccine is not very effective some years.

In the U.S., the peak flu season is approximately November to February. However, in Minnesota, the peak is from January to February. The virus typically affects coastal states and large metro areas first, which is why I recommend that snowbirds and those who travel get their vaccinations early.

Check out this map that shows the steady progression of the virus.

 

Feeling sick after getting the vaccine?

One argument I commonly hear for why people opt out of the flu vaccine is they are worried they will get the flu from the vaccine. Here are some important things to consider:

Dead virus. The flu vaccine that we give here at TCHC is a dead virus. You would never get the flu from this vaccine.

Delayed effect. The vaccine takes about two weeks to become fully effective. It is possible to contract the flu in this time period, which is why it’s important to get the vaccine early.Sick woman sneezing to tissue. Medicine, hot beverage and dirty paper towels in front. Girl caught cold. Cough syrup and handkerchiefs on table. Very ill person feeling bad and having fever.

Specific strains. The vaccine contains specific strains of the flu that researchers believe will be most prevalent during the current season. It is possible to contract a strain that is not included in the vaccine.

No response. A certain percentage of people simply don’t respond to the vaccine. The reasons are unclear, and because the vaccine changes every year, it is hard to research.

Already infected. The flu has an incubation period of up to four days. If you were already infected with the flu before you get the vaccine, then the vaccine will be ineffective.

Immune response. It is possible to have an immune response to the vaccine, which can give you muscle aches and pains or a mild fever for two to three days. This is reassuring because it means your immune system is responding to the vaccine and you are likely more protected from the flu.

 

Influenza – a serious illness

Influenza is extremely contagious and is spread through droplets when people talk, sneeze or cough. Typical symptoms last about one week and include high fever, muscle aches, upper respiratory infection and fatigue. Most people will experience weakness and fatigue for another one to two weeks after the actual illness.

Those most at risk are the elderly, people with weakened immune systems and children, especially infants younger than 6 months old because they can’t be vaccinated.

Flu vaccine calendar noteTo a certain extent, the younger you are, the more severe your reaction will be. Most symptoms that come from the flu are caused by your immune system, so the healthier your immune system, the potentially more severe your symptoms will be.

If you come down with the flu, your best course of action is to stay home from work or school, drink plenty of fluids, get lots of rest, and take anti-inflammatory medications such as Ibuprofen or Aleve.

The flu is also a fairly significant cause of mortality in the U.S. From the 1976-1977 season to 2006-2007 season, flu-associated deaths ranged from as low as 3,000 to as high as 49,000 annually, according to the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Because the severity of the virus is unpredictable, I highly recommend getting the vaccine as soon as is convenient for you. By doing so, you potentially avoid illness for yourself while ultimately preventing the spread to vulnerable individuals.

 

For additional information about influenza, visit www.cdc.gov.

 

About the Author: A board-certified family practitioner and Chief Medical Officer at Tri-County Health Care, Ben Hess, M.D., was inspired to study medicine because he wanted to make a difference in people’s lives every day. While not at work, Hess enjoys hunting, fishing, bowling and listening to public radio. He and his wife have three daughters and make their home in Verndale.Dr. Hess