Archive for Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Health experts urge flu vaccines

November 7, 2007

Have you received your flu shot yet?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Tonganoxie physician Phil Stevens, an influenza vaccination is one's best defense against the potentially deadly illness.

Influenza, a highly contagious viral infection that is usually characterized by the rapid onset of several symptoms including a high fever, runny or stuffy nose, coughing, aching and extreme fatigue, is most prevalent during the winter months, typically November through March. While most people recover from the flu within a few days to weeks, some develop other life threatening complications such as pneumonia.

"Thirty-five to 40,000 people in America die of influenza each year, so it's always a concern," Stevens said. "Most of the people who die are the elderly, infants or somebody whose health is compromised by some chronic disease, but it can kill a healthy person within 24 hours. It's one of the few things that can."

Stevens said the peak of flu season often begins around the holidays when people get together and travel all around the country. Influenza is passed on through the air when somebody coughs or sneezes or by touching an infected object such as a doorknob.

It is so contagious, he said, that it is common for him to see a family of three or four that have all become sick within 24 hours of each other.

However, the illness can be treated through antiviral medication prescribed by a doctor and other measures can be taken to prevent infection.

"Hand washing is good and not going to work if you have a high fever," Stevens said about preventing influenza. "Also keeping your distance from people who are coughing or sneezing."

Stevens advises that influenza, a respiratory illness, is different than what is commonly known as the "stomach flu," an intestinal illness caused by other viruses, bacteria or parasites.

"That goes year round," Stevens said about the intestinal viruses. "A lot of that is food borne or water borne, and you can't immunize against it."

Those infected with influenza can expect to miss probably a week of school or work, Stevens said. Staying in bed, maintaining nutrition and fluid intake and seeing a doctor immediately after symptoms develop is the best way to combat the flu, he said.

However, receiving a flu vaccine is still the best way to prevent influenza in the first place, Stevens said.

While the CDC Web site said the best time to receive one is October or November, getting vaccinated in December or January can also be effective, since influenza is most active later in the season.

There have been vaccine shortages in the past, but Stevens said there are no signs of a shortage this year and he has already administered more than 200 shots.

"Everybody should get a flu shot," he said. "It could be a lifesaving thing."

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