September 20, 2016
NORTON, Kan. – According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the influenza virus can be unpredictable, and timing of when the virus spreads can vary in different parts of the United States and from season to season. While the virus can be found any time of the year, the most common peaks occur between December and March.
September is normally the month when flu vaccines become available at health care facilities nationwide. The Norton Medical Clinic is now offering the vaccine to patients who request it. Dr. Hoa-Dung Nguyen, family physician at the Norton County Hospital and Norton Medical Clinic, said she follows the CDC’s guidance and recommends patients get the vaccine before the end of October; however, patients can still get the vaccine during the flu season through January.
“One should get the vaccine about two weeks before the flu season starts, because it takes about two weeks for the immune system to build up antibodies against influenza after the vaccine,” Dr. Nguyen said. “The flu season can start as soon as September and last through May. That is why it is still beneficial to get an influenza vaccine late in the season.”
The CDC reports that anyone can get the flu, a respiratory virus that usually strikes suddenly and can last several days. Symptoms can include a fever, sore throat, cough, headache, runny or stuffy nose, chills, muscle aches and fatigue. The virus can lead to pneumonia and blood infections; it also can cause diarrhea and seizures in children. People currently experiencing another medical condition could have stronger, more lasting symptoms if they come in contact with the flu.
Who should get the vaccine?
The CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine for everyone 6 months of age and older. Infants, children under 5 years of age, people 65 years of age and older, pregnant women and those up to two weeks post-delivery, American Indians and Alaskan Natives are at a greater risk if they get the flu, as are people with weakened immune systems from chronic diseases such as heart disease, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), diabetes, cancer and HIV/AIDS.
Dr. Nguyen said people who have ever had Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a rare disorder in which the body's immune system attacks the nerves, should not get this vaccine. Those who are not feeling well, such as those experiencing a fever or cold symptoms, should wait until they feel better to get the vaccine.
“Patients who are on medications that could weaken the immune system such as steroids, medications for immune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis or chemotherapy, should discuss with their physicians before getting the vaccine,” Dr. Nguyen said. “Please be aware that these patients are vulnerable to getting influenza and should take special precautions to protect themselves if they cannot get the vaccine.”
Why is the vaccine important?
Getting the vaccine can reduce illnesses, doctors' visits, as well as missed work, school and social gatherings. According to a study by the CDC, the flu vaccine reduces risk of hospitalization by more than half among seniors. Patients should speak with their primary care provider to learn if more than one dose is necessary in a given year.
“Some patients could need two doses of vaccine in a season,” Dr. Nguyen said. “Children 6 months to 8 years old who are getting vaccinated for the first time will need two doses at least four weeks apart.”
How is the vaccine developed?
Many flu viruses exist and are constantly changing. During a season, different types influenza A and B and subtypes of influenza A circulate and cause illness. Each year, the vaccine is researched and reviewed to best match three to four of the most common circulating flu viruses, according to the CDC.
Sometimes the vaccine does not always match perfectly with the virus of the season, Dr. Nguyen said. The vaccine manufacturers do surveillance over the year to best match the vaccine with the circulating virus.
“The vaccine includes three to four different strains of influenza, so even if it doesn't match, the body’s immune system is still bolstered to resist the other strains of the virus included in the vaccine,” she said.
People can protect themselves from getting the flu or other viruses that cause cold symptoms this year by practicing good hand and cough hygiene, Dr. Nguyen said: “Remember to wash hands often with soap and water. Cover your cough with the crease of your arm instead of your hands. Stay home from work or school if you are sick, and limit contact with those who are vulnerable to getting the infection.”
If infected with the flu virus, there are three different antiviral drugs available to shorten the course of the illness, she said. The medication works best within 48 hours of getting sick; however, people with the flu should take the medication as soon as possible, even if it is later than 48 hours.
What are the differences between an injection and the nasal vaccine?
Dr. Nguyen said the nasal vaccine, commonly known as FluMist, is not recommended by the CDC for 2016-2017 due to concern of its effectiveness. This year the only option is injection, which is an inactivated influenza vaccine.
What are possible vaccine reactions?
The CDC recommends that if a patient has experienced only hives after exposure to egg, he or she can get any licensed flu vaccine that is appropriate for his or her age and health. If a person has had more severe symptoms or has required epinephrine after egg exposure, he or she can get the vaccine, but the vaccine should be given in a medical setting and supervised by a medical provider.
Most people don’t experience side effects from the vaccine, but some mild reactions may occur, according to the CDC. These might include soreness, redness or swelling at the site where the vaccine was given; sore, red or itchy eyes; cough, fever, aches or headaches; itching; and fatigue.
Patients should contact their primary care provider if they have questions about the flu virus or flu vaccine. The CDC has numerous resources on its website, www.cdc.gov/flu. For more information about the Norton County Hospital visit its Facebook page at www.facebook.com/nortoncountyhosp or website at www.ntcohosp.com.