Archive for Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Avoiding the flu

Vaccines, prevention and treatment ease influenza’s sting

October 25, 2006

The winter months are just around the corner and so is flu season.

And an area physician says now is the time to start protecting yourself.

Dr. Philip Stevens, Tonganoxie, said influenza is a highly contagious viral infection. It is passed from person to person through sneezing or coughing. It also can be spread when a person touches an infected surface and then touches their nose or mouth. Symptoms include fever, fatigue, cough, muscle aches and headache. It may also develop into ear and sinus infections and pneumonia.

Stevens said flu season is generally in December and January, but especially in January. He said the holiday season might be partially to blame for the spread during the winter months.

"Part of it may be the holiday travel," he said. "But there are a lot of other respiratory infections that you don't see in the summer that make you more vulnerable."

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment suggests practicing good hygiene to prevent the spread of the flu. Tips include covering the mouth and nose with a tissue while sneezing or coughing, washing hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand cleaner often and especially after sneezing or coughing. However, Stevens said the best way to prevent the illness is to stay indoors.

"Just stay home," he said. "It is so highly contagious."

While staying home may not be an option for many, the next best thing is to get a flu shot. Stevens said everybody can benefit from getting a flu shot.

"If you immunized 100 people, 75 people will not get the flu," he said. "Twenty five people will get it, but nobody will die. It will be modified so it won't be a dangerous illness."

KDHE recommends the following receive flu shots: children ages 6 months to 5 years, anyone over the age of 50, pregnant women, people with chronic illnesses, residents of nursing homes, health care workers and everyone who is in contact with people in these groups. Children under 6 months of age and those who are allergic to eggs should not be vaccinated.

The best time to get a flu shot is during the months of October and November. Vaccines can be effective in later months, KDHE said, but it takes two weeks to build immunity after receiving the flu shot.

Stevens said he provides flu shots at his office whenever he can get enough of the vaccine. Before flu shot shortages were an issue, he said he gave about 800 shots a year. Last year he gave more than 300.

"We got 100 doses during the first of September," he said. "They didn't last long at all."

However, Stevens said he soon would have more vaccines available. He said many companies that manufacture the vaccines focus on delivering it to mass immunization sites rather than individual doctor's offices. He said he expects there to be an ample supply before the end of the season.

Stevens also said the flu season is unpredictable. Some years he sees several dozen people with symptoms, other times there are only a few cases, but there are ways for people who do contract influenza to ease the recovery process.

"They should certainly rest, drink a lot of fluids and seek medical care," Stevens said. "There are antiviral treatments now that we didn't used to have. I think it is worthwhile to treat."

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