Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Protect Yourself and Others Against Influenza: Get a Flu Shot

By Lisa K. Cornelius, MD, MPH
Infectious Diseases Medical Officer
Texas Department of State Health Services
Consultant, TMA Committee on Infectious Diseases

Editor’s Note: As fall begins, influenza (flu) season follows close behind. The Texas Legislature passed legislation sponsored by Rep. Tan Parker (R-Denton) declaring Oct. 1 Influenza Awareness Day. Texas physicians urge their patients to get vaccinated now against this potentially serious, even fatal illness.

The Texas Department of Health and Human Services recommends flu vaccination for everyone 6 months of age and older, especially persons who are at increased risk for severe complications from influenza, including:

  • Children 6 to 59 months old;
  • Adults 50 years and older;
  • Adults and children who have chronic pulmonary (including asthma) or cardiovascular (except isolated high blood pressure), kidney, liver, brain, blood, or metabolic disorders (including diabetes);
  • Individuals with suppressed immune systems (including immunosuppression caused by medications or by HIV infection);
  • Women who are or will be pregnant during the influenza season;
  • Children and adolescents (aged 6 months to 18 years) who are receiving long-term aspirin therapy and who might be at risk for experiencing Reye’s syndrome after an influenza virus infection;
  • Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities;
  • American Indians/Alaska Natives; and+
  • People who are morbidly obese (a body mass index of at least 40).

Vaccination of individuals who live with or care for people at higher risk for influenza-related complications is also important. These people include:

  • Health care personnel;
  • Household contacts (including children) and caregivers of children less than 5years old and adults 50 years and older; and
  • Household contacts (including children) and caregivers of people with medical conditions that put them at higher risk for severe complications from influenza.

This year more options are available for people seeking flu vaccination. They are:

  • New vaccine formulations that now can protect people from three to four different flu viruses; 
  • High-dose vaccine for those 65 years and older;
  • Intradermal vaccine with a small needle; and
  • Egg-free recombinant vaccine for people 18-49 years old.  

Read the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations.

Most experts believe that flu viruses spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze, or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby. Less often, people might get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth, eyes, or possibly their nose. The single best way to prevent the flu is to get a flu vaccine each season. But good health habits like covering your cough and washing your hands often can help stop the spread of germs and prevent respiratory illnesses like the flu. Follow these recommendations from the CDC:

1. Avoid close contact.
Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.

2. Stay home when you are sick.
If possible, stay home from work, school, and errands when you are sick. You will help prevent others from catching your illness.

3. Cover your mouth and nose.
Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. It may prevent those around you from getting sick.

4. Clean your hands.
Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.

5. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.
Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth.

6. Practice other good health habits.

Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work, or school, especially when someone is ill. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.

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