Senior Health: Getting flu vaccine protects you and others

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that 48.8 million people became sick from the flu nationally last flu season; 22.7 million people went to a health care provider; 959,000 were hospitalized and 79,400 flu deaths occurred during the 2017–2018 flu season. On the CDC website, it goes on to say, “The 2017–2018 influenza season was additionally atypical in that it was severe for all ages of the population. This was higher than any season since the 2009 pandemic and serves as a reminder of how severe seasonal influenza can be.”

An estimated 618 children, under 18 years of age, died from the flu virus last year in the U.S. Six of those children were from New York state. Additionally, there were 7,478 deaths for adults between the ages of 50 and 64, and also 68,448 deaths among those 65 years and older. An estimated 79,416 deaths occurred across all ages.

Fall is the official start of flu season, and the vaccine is available at all UHS Primary Care locations. The vaccine changes every year to target the specific influenza viruses that are predicted to be most widespread, which is why a new shot is needed each year. The body generally needs two weeks to make antibodies against the flu viruses, so the sooner you get vaccinated the sooner you can be ready to fight off any illness from the flu. Your flu shot not only protects you, but also everyone around you. While the flu shot will be available throughout the flu season, the sooner you get yours, the sooner you will be protected.

While most cases of the flu are not life-threatening — it usually just makes people feel lousy and miss school or work for up to a week — the virus is unpredictable and can make previously healthy children and adults very sick, often suddenly. For young children, seniors, pregnant women, and people with chronic or serious medical conditions, the flu is an even bigger threat both to their health and their lives. That’s why an annual influenza vaccine is recommended for everyone over 6 months of age.

While this column is to stress the importance of older people getting the vaccine, it cannot be stressed enough that others, who they may be in contact should also be vaccinated. Everyone can play a role in prevention in order to reduce the spread of the disease.

Some common flu symptoms include a fever and/or chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, fatigue and/or vomiting and diarrhea. The flu generally comes on suddenly, within hours.

Most people who get their flu shot will only experience mild symptoms of the flu, but if you’re in a high-risk group or your symptoms worsen, you should contact your health care provider immediately. There is medication that can be given to someone with a flu diagnosis if it’s caught early. The medication can help reduce symptoms and can shorten the recovery time.

From the CDC website:

• You may be able to pass on flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick;

• People with flu are most contagious in the first 3 to 4 days after their illness begins;

• Some otherwise healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to five to seven days after becoming sick;

• Some people, especially young children and people with weakened immune systems, might be able to infect others with flu viruses for an even longer time.

While the vaccine is the best way to prevent the flu, there are other everyday actions you can take to help keep from getting sick and stop the spread of germs:

• Avoid contact with those who are sick;

• Stay home if you suspect you’re sick, get plenty of sleep and drink plenty of fluids;

• Wash your hands with soap and water frequently;

• Disinfect frequently touched surfaces;

• Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing. Use your elbow instead of your hands.

At UHS Delaware Valley Hospital and throughout all the UHS Primary Care offices, we do everything we can to make it easy for our patients to get the vaccine.

Kathy Giunta-Lenci is the infection control and employee health nurse at UHS Delaware Valley Hospital in Walton. Go to www.nyuhs.org for more information or call your local UHS Primary Care office for more information.

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