LIMA — Ebola may still be in the media spotlight, but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a different acute illness hospitalizes more than 200,000 people every single year in the United States — influenza.
With flu season is just around the corner, now is the perfect time to protect yourself and your family against preventable illness, said Becky Dershem, director of nursing at Allen County Public Health.
“For the last four flu seasons, the state of Ohio hasn’t been above 45 percent,” Dershem said, of residents who have received flu vaccines. “That’s not good. That means a whole lot of people are going to be sick and miserable, and we’re going to have a lot of people hospitalized for no reason, when it’s preventable.”
Whether it’s at a pharmacy, doctor’s office, clinic or at the health department, the time to get your flu shot is today.
“It does take a while to work,” Dershem said. “I mean, you have to have it on board for at least two months to maximize your immunity. So you can’t wait until you hear that everybody’s getting sick. You have to plan ahead a little bit.”
So who, exactly, needs to get the flu shot? The universal influenza immunization recommendation indicates that all people ages 6 months and older should receive the vaccine. Children who are 6 months through 8 years of age actually need two dosages the very first time they get the influenza vaccine, said Dr. Henry Bernstein, D.O., FAAP, the lead author of the flu recommendations with the American Academy of Pediatrics.
“The reason is because their immune systems are not as well developed as an adult,” Bernstein said. “And so they need two shots the very first time in order adequately prime the immune system, so the immune system makes the proper amount of protection against influenza.”
For children — and even adults — who would like to avoid a needle poke, a flu mist vaccine is available to healthy people ages 2 and older. This vaccination option is simply sprayed up the nose, offering the same protection as the shot.
“Because children under 6 months of age cannot get the vaccine, it’s important that family members and caregivers of young infants get the vaccine to sort of build a protective cocoon around those younger infants,” Bernstein said. “There are 4 million births a year in this country, so we’re talking about a lot of people being in contact with a lot of young infants.”
Pregnant women should also make sure to receive the flu vaccine during any stage of pregnancy, Bernstein added.
“The reason is, not only are they protecting themselves — and remember, pregnant women don’t necessarily fight infections as well as non-pregnant women — but also, they build up protection against the flu and pass on that protection to their newborn baby,” he said.
A fear of the vaccine causing sickness is one common excuse people offer for skipping their flu shot, Dershem said. In reality, it is extremely rare for a person to have an adverse reaction to the flu vaccine.
“It’s an inactivated virus, so it’s not alive,” she said. “It can’t make you sick. So if you’re getting sick, you’re getting sick because you were going to get sick anyway.”
The most common side effect of the influenza vaccine is muscle tenderness at the injection site for a day or so. Flu symptoms, on the other hand, may include the following: Feeling feverish, having chills, a cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, a headache or a general feeling of fatigue.
“If you are sick, please stay home from work,” Dershem said. “We don’t need you getting other people sick. And if you go to work and somebody there is sick, don’t be getting close to them.”
According to a 10-year trend, the months of January through March are the most prominent times for flu season, she noted.
“If you’re looking to get a flu vaccine, now is prime time because you’re going to have your maximum immunity at the time that it’s probably going to be the nastiest,” she said. “We want people vaccinated — the more people vaccinated, the better off we’re going to be, as a society.”
Walk-in flu vaccination times at the Allen County Public Health are on Monday, Wednesday and Friday between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. and between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. For questions, or for more information about the flu shot, call Allen County Public Health at 419-228-4457. Many agencies also offer flu shots; check the community calendar in this newspaper for details or ask your family doctor.