October is the typical start to the flu virus season. Fortunately, most cases of flu can be effectively prevented through vaccination and healthful hygiene practices.
Seasonal influenza is a fall and winter illness. There are no current cases of flu circulating in our area, though the season usually begins in late fall. Rates of flu infection usually peak in January and February.
Many people confuse flu with other viruses causing respiratory symptoms. Indeed, many of the symptoms of flu are non-specific. Symptoms of flu include fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, headache, muscle aches and tiredness.
While symptoms may be similar to other viruses, flu can occasionally cause serious complications, such as pneumonia. It is estimated that there are more than 30,000 deaths annually in the U.S. caused by flu, mostly among the elderly and those with weakened immune systems. Children are also at increased risk of flu complications.
Flu vaccines are now readily available in our local area. Vaccination this year covers three of the most common flu strains.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending vaccination for all people older than age 6 months. Since young infants cannot be effectively vaccinated, it is important for all their household members and caregivers to receive the vaccine to prevent spread to the infant.
The flu vaccine comes in four general varieties. The nasal vaccine, which involves the spray of a mist into the nose, is known as the live attenuated influenza vaccine. This vaccine contains a weakened form of a live flu virus. Side effects can include runny nose, headache, sore throat and cough. Fever may occur in children. This vaccine is approved for ages 2 to 49 but cannot be used in pregnant women.
The other three forms of flu vaccine are inactivated and contain killed influenza virus. All three forms involve an injection with a needle. The intradermal vaccine is injected into the skin and is approved for ages 18 to 64.
The regular seasonal flu shot is injected into a muscle and is approved for ages 6 months and older.
Also, this year there is a high dose flu shot for ages 65 and older. It is formulated to produce a better immune response among the elderly.
It is important to note that any of the injectable flu vaccines, as killed viruses, do not produce flu symptoms.
Because flu season is just around the corner and vaccines are readily available at local physician offices and pharmacies, now is the best time to get vaccinated. The vaccine takes about two weeks to produce effective immunity.
Infants and young children who have not received a prior flu vaccine require a two-dose series of vaccination, with doses separated by one month. Immunity is strongest after the two-dose series is completed. Therefore, it is especially important for this group to get vaccinated early.
Dr. Matthew A. Clark is a board-certified physician in internal medicine and pediatrics practicing at the Ute Mountain Ute Health Center in Towaoc.