by Kirk Maltais
The inevitable is rapidly approaching once again. Flu season is coming back to our area, but there is plenty you can do to make sure that the season does not throw a wrench into the workings of your everyday life.
Influenza, or “the flu”, is a viral infection that comes in two main strains, A and B. Symptoms include fever, chills, headaches, muscle aches, and sore throat, among others. Also common are mutated strains of influenza, such as the H1N1 “swine flu” of a few years back, which wreaks havoc on people’s immune systems every year.
According to the Virginia Department of Health, our area generally sees the most flu cases in the months of January and February. This gives people a window of opportunity to get their flu vaccines well before any outbreaks of sickness. With an estimated 173 million flu vaccines being produced this season, the VDH does not anticipate any shortages of vaccines. Because of this, the VDH urges everyone to get their vaccination, which covers not only the A and B strains of influenza, but H1N1 and H3N2 as well.
So whats new this year? According to Laura Ann Nicolai, head of the VDH’s Immunization Program, among all of the available vaccines, the newest is called an “interdermal” vaccination. This form of vaccination is less painful than the traditional form, utilizing a needle that is 90 percent smaller than the regular needle used for other shots. Nicolai describes it as “a tiny little injection, a less painful form for folks who might not like needles.” This vaccination, along with the other options of the traditional shot and a nasal spray vaccination, will be widely available at local pharmacies statewide.
According to Nicolai, the formulation of this year’s flu shot is the same as last year’s, but that does not mean consumers who got their shots last year don’t have to worry about it this year.
“The flu vaccine only conveys immunity for one flu season. It does not provide long-term lasting protection, even if the same virus strains circulating this year circulated last year.”
While Nicolai stresses that everyone should get their flu shot, the VDH outlines on their website groups that are at higher risk should they contract influenza. These groups include:
– All children aged 6 months-18 years, and all persons aged over 50 years
– Pregnant and postpartum women
– Women who will be pregnant during the influenza season
– Residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities
– People who have chronic lung or heart problems, including asthma
– People who have other serious medical conditions, such as diabetes, kidney disease,
cystic fibrosis, anemia, cancer, weak immune systems (including those with HIV), or a
Other than just getting vaccinated, the VDH offers simple tips to avoid getting sick during flu season. These tips are as simple as washing your hands frequently, maintaining good hygiene , and avoiding touching your eyes and your mouth. Nicolai also stresses that staying home from work when you are sick goes a long way in curbing influenza outbreaks. Also, if you are sick, it is important to see a doctor, and take any antiviral medicines prescribed. Following these simple tips will minimize your risk during flu season.
For people with young children under six months of age, who cannot be vaccinated, Nicolai strongly stresses that it is that much more important for caregivers of these children to be vaccinated. Infants who contract influenza can be put in a life-threatening position, so it is the responsibility of the adults surrounding them to minimize their risk of carrying the flu.
According to Nicolai, the VDH has yet to begin gathering data on this year’s flu season, so it is hard to tell if we are in for a wallop. But the vaccines are available, so you can start now to make sure the flu does not slow you down this winter.