Friday, August 31, 2012

Preparing for the Flu Season

Erica Swegler, MDErica Swegler, MD
Family physician, Keller, TX

The seasonal influenza (flu) vaccine has begun to arrive at doctors’ offices. Since we have already seen people who tested positive for the flu, now is a good time to come in and get your shot.

Who should receive the influenza vaccine? Almost everyone who is age 6 months and older! There are some exceptions, but screening by your doctor is the best way to know whether you are one of the few who should not receive it. Getting the flu shot protects not only you but also everyone with whom you might come into contact should you have the flu and inadvertently spread the virus.

There are two types of vaccines:
  1. The” flu shot” is an inactivated vaccine that can be given to people older than 6 months. There are three different choices for flu shot:
    • A regular flu shot approved for people age 6 months and older,
    • A high-dose flu shot approved for people 65 and older, or
    • An intradermal (between the layers of skin) flu shot for people 18 to 64 years of age.
  2. The nasal-spray flu vaccine (LAIV for “Live Attenuated Influenza Vaccine) is made with live weakened flu virus given as a nasal spray. It is approved for healthy people ages 2-49 who are not pregnant.
Many children will need two flu vaccines given at least four weeks apart. To find out whether your child needs one or two vaccinations, consult your usual physician. The doctor will need to check what vaccines your child had in the last two years to determine whether your child needs one or two shots.

The vaccine does not work right away. It takes about two weeks for antibodies to develop to protect against influenza infections. Until then, you are still at risk for contracting the flu. That is why it is better to get vaccinated early, before flu season really gets under way. Even if you get the flu after the shot, you will probably have a milder case.

By getting vaccinated against the influenza virus, you help stop the spread of the virus and decrease the thousands of deaths each year from the flu. Infants under the age of 6 months are at high risk for hospitalization and death from the flu, as are the elderly. Ninety percent of the deaths from the flu each year are among people over the age of 65.

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