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You still have time to get your flu shot

Posted on Dec. 6, 2011 ( comments)

Have you gotten your flu shot this year? If not, you should. We know people have a lot of excuses for skipping the vaccine: Too busy, too painful, too expensive.

They all sound like feeble reasons when you are curled up in bed under five blankets unable to swallow, or when you or a loved one is in the hospital having trouble breathing.

Flu season in Western Washington hasn’t really started yet. We’re seeing a few cases of influenza-like illnesses but typically we don’t see a spike in infections until the end of December or later. That means you still have time to get the vaccine and protect yourself from the aches and pains associated with seasonal flu. Your health care provider or a local pharmacy can administer the vaccination.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a yearly flu vaccine for everyone as the first and most important step in protecting against this serious disease. While there are many different flu viruses, the flu vaccine is designed to protect against the three main flu strains that research indicates will cause the most illness during the flu season: an H3N2 virus, an influenza B virus and the H1N1 virus that caused so much illness two years ago.

The flu vaccine is available in two forms:

A shot. Flu shots can be given to adults and to children age 6 months and older.

Nasal spray. The nasal spray flu vaccine (FluMist) can be given to adults and children age 2 – 49 years of age. . The nasal spray flu vaccine isn't recommended for children ages 2 to 4 who have asthma or a history of wheezing, pregnant women, people who have certain medical conditions or muscle or nerve disorders, people who have weak immune systems, and children or adolescents on long-term aspirin treatment.

Protect yourself – and others: Because both cold and flu viruses can be easily spread through contact with people or surfaces that are contaminated, frequent hand washing can go a long way toward prevention. Wash your hands after having any contact with someone who has any cold symptoms. And keep your school-age child with a cold away from younger siblings — particularly infants — until the symptoms pass. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can also be used and are very effective at killing germs on clean hands. The product must contain at least 60 percent alcohol to be effective.

If you are sick, expect to be ill for at least a week. Unless medical care is necessary, you and your kids should stay home and minimize contact with others, including avoiding travel and not going to work or school until you have been fever-free for at least 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medications.

If you leave the house to seek medical care, wear a face mask and cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue or your covered elbow. With influenza, people may be contagious from one day before they develop symptoms to up to seven days after they get sick. Children, especially younger children, might potentially be contagious for longer periods.

Flu symptoms: Flu symptoms can start about one or two days after you are exposed to the virus. Flu symptoms usually come on suddenly and include some or all of these symptoms:

  • Fever, sometimes rising above 103 F
  • Chills
  • Dry cough
  • Sore throat
  • Muscle aches
  • Loss of appetite
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Stuffy or runny nose

Get some relief: Flu symptoms can make you feel awful, but if you're basically healthy and you're not pregnant, take care of yourself at home. Try these remedies:

Take acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others) to reduce fever and muscle aches. Don't give products containing aspirin to children or young adults, as these drugs may cause Reye's syndrome.

Drink plenty of clear fluids, such as water, broth or sports drinks.

Rest as long as you continue to feel tired, and sleep as much as you can.

Of course, you can avoid the flu by getting the vaccine. The flu season in Western Washington is far from over, and if you think it’s getting late in the season and you probably have avoided getting sick, you are wrong.

Some people have more risk of flu complications (for example, young children, people 65 and older, people with asthma, diabetes or pregnant women) If these individuals have flu like symptoms they should talk to their health care provider about whether or not they need to be seen.

For more information, check the CDC website.

Sue Gustafson is the director of infection prevention at MultiCare Health System. She has already received her flu vaccine.

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