It’s not too late to get your flu shot

Published 1:08 am Wednesday, November 20, 2013

People who have not gotten a flu shot this season are advised by medical personnel to get vaccinated so they will have protection from the virus.

Millions of people contract the flu each year. According to the state Department of Health and Hospitals, more than 36,000 people in the U.S. die from the virus every year, and the flu sends more than 200,000 to the hospital.

Melissa Gilmore, RN, BSN, director of infection control education at Riverside Medical Center in Franklinton, said more than 20,000 children under age 5 are hospitalized due to the flu each year.

People tend to think of the flu as just a bad cold, Gilmore said, but it can actually turn into a severe respiratory illness.

Caused by the influenza virus, the flu is an infection of the respiratory system that causes fever, cough, runny/stuffy nose, sore throat, chills, body aches and fatigue. In most cases the symptoms of the flu can be treated at home with rest and medication. However, it is a bigger threat for some people and can cause more serious illnesses such as pneumonia or result in death, according to the DHH.

Gilmore said everyone over the age of 6 months is encouraged to get the flu shot, particularly people with heart disease, kidney disorders, diabetes and lung disorders such as asthma, anyone with a weakened immune system, pregnant women and children.

Other groups at higher flu risk include healthcare workers, people employed in schools and anyone else working in the public, Gilmore said.

Riverside also urges parents, siblings and caregivers of infants younger than 6 months to get the flu shot, Gilmore said. Infants that young cannot get the shot, and that means family members need to get immunized so they won’t bring the flu home to the baby, she said.

This has been an early, though not particularly active, flu season, Gilmore said. While the flu season generally begins in October, she said the hospital saw positive flu cases in September. She said the season used to end around March, but cases were seen until June this year.

She said the flu season peaks usually peaks in this area in January and February.

“So if you haven’t gotten your flu shot, it’s not too late,” she said.

The DHH is also making that push through its “Get the Flu Shot and You’ll be Thankful” campaign. Kickoff events took place in each area of the state last week.

Something new this year is the Flubok vaccine, which can be administered to people with an egg allergy, Gilmore said.

“In the past if you were allergic to eggs you were unable to take the flu vaccine because it’s actually grown in eggs,” she said.

The Riverside staff is excited about that new vaccine, as Gilmore and three other employees have egg allergies. She said she could not get the flu before this year and is hoping for her first flu-free season.

If you think you might have the flu, seek treatment early, Gilmore said. Antivirals that can lessen the flu’s effects, such as Tamiflu, are only effective if the virus is caught within the first 48-72 hours, she said.

The flu can be spread person-to-person, generally through an infected person coughing or sneezing. To help prevent contaminating themselves with the flu, people should avoid touching their mouth, nose and eyes, Gilmore said.

Gilmore added that good hand hygiene is the number one way to prevent the spread of infection.

She said the CDC’s recommendation is that people wash their hands for 15-20 seconds with warm water and soap, using a scrubbing motion, and then rinse.

Gilmore teaches hand hygiene classes in classrooms and organizations throughout the year when that is requested. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call her at the hospital at 795-4316.