Whether you ‘believe’ in flu vaccinations or not, as long as you are informed to the risks and benefits of using vaccines, as an adult, that is totally your choice to not get them. However, when it comes to your children, really learn the risks of not vaccinating your children…the flu is more serious than most people think, it can be devastating to a child, and you cannot keep them in a bubble of protection forever. You can do whatever you want for yourself, but arm your child with the protection their immune system needs to ward off the flu this season.
Cold and flu season is now upon all of us; we are all at risk, we all know that we should be getting flu shots, especially if you are considered high risk, and ideally you should get the flu shot before December, when flu season starts to hit its hardest. The flu can be a very devastating illness and can lead to complications of other medical issues and cause death. Colds? You just don’t want to feel crappy, so we should really try our best to prevent both, right? Prevent illness in yourself and others, and you will be a MUCH happier person this winter!
The Flu Virus
Who is considered High Risk?
Per the CDC (Center for Disease Control) it is:
Children 5 and under
People with chronic medical conditions
People older than 50 years old
Anyone living in a nursing home or long-term care facilities
People who care for those at high risk (healthcare workers, caregivers for elderly or very young)
What else can I do to prevent colds and flu? Get adequate sleep: I have certain unnamed friends that claim exhaustion if they get less than 10-12 hours of sleep a night, I am really happy with the average person if they get 7-8 hours of sleep; because that will refresh your body and help to keep your immune system strong. And, if you are sick, then try to get more like 10 hours of sleep, and relax as much as possible, your body is trying to tell you something, and you need to let it recharge. Keep your hands off your face: Try not to bite your fingernails, wipe your nose on your hands, touch your eyes, or anything of that nature; it can spread germs all over your face, and increase your risk of getting a cold or the flu. Beware of others: Wash your hands (or use and antibacterial gel) after shaking hands, and clean others belongings before you use it yourself (like phones, clothes, etc) You never know how well other people clean things, and even something as benign seeming as borrowing a pen, can end up in a cold later on! Plus, if someone is sneezing or coughing (showing any sign of illness), I would keep away from a big bear hug and be a little more wary of spending time in an enclosed space with someone who seems under the weather. Eat Fresh: Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet of fruits, veggies, proteins can support a strong immune system, and if you aren’t eating all that well, pop a multi-vitamin to keep your immune system working optimally, and try to prevent illness as best you can. Get your sweat on: Working out regularly keeps your immune system strong, and your body working like a well oiled machine, not to mention that you look good and feel good too. So, despite shorter days, and cooler weather, make time to exercise and get your body moving. Quit smoking: Just another reason to ditch the butts, it creates changes in your respiratory tract, and decreases your immune system, leaving your lungs as prime target for viruses and bacteria to attack and cause illness. Yuck! (Really, as if I needed yet another reason to get on my soap box about quitting smoking!!)
If you do get sick?
Keep it contained to yourself and try to sneeze or cough into your elbow area, as to prevent the spread to others. Use fresh tissues at all times; I mean I always thought it was a little creepy that my Nana would use a tissue, then shove it in the wristband of her sweater for later, but as an HCP, I now know how truly germ-y and gross that is, and you can actually reinfect yourself by using dirty or old tissues! Drinks lots of water (and coconut water to replenish your electrolytes), and get plenty of rest and sleep. I know easier said than done, but don’t overstress yourself when you are ill….make some “me” time, for sure, and stay away from work! And, if you start to get really high fevers, and the illness doesn’t start to get better after a couple of days, see your HCP to make sure that it isn’t something more serious.
There is always an excuse NOT to work out and eat healthy, but there is no reason to want to get sick. So be proactive about your health: live a healthy lifestyle, and you will be a healthier person. You’ll thank me!
With Flu season looming and everyone asking if you’ve gotten a flu shot, if you plan on it, and hearing (my favorite) “Eh, I’m not going to get it, I’m healthy and it’s only the flu, I don’t get what the big deal is…” That statement clearly comes from someone who hasn’t had the flu!! Since I became a nurse, I have always gotten the flu vaccine, mostly because it is offered to you at the hospital, and they come to give it to you….it’s actually hard NOT to get it (and it is currently required at my hospital that all healthcare workers get it.) But the year that I lived in the UK, I did get my US flu vaccine and considered myself all set, until I flew throughout the EU and to Bali and got the flu; the sickest I have been as an adult and it was MISERABLE. So, yes, I am a believer in the flu vaccine, and it is one of the few vaccinations that I really encourage everyone to get.
Why is the flu shot such a big deal?
Approximately 49,000 people die each year directly from the flu or flu related causes. In 2009 (Apr-Oct) approximately 34 million people were infected with H1N1, causing millions of hospital admissions, days of lost work, money out of YOUR pocket for co-pays/meds/lost work, and not to mention one of the highest death rates in children and adults from the flu!! If getting a quick shot can prevent all that, why not get it?
There are two different vaccines out there for the flu:
A nasal spray and a flu shot. Both are protective of three different virus strains that the CDC research indicates will be most virulent each season. For example, these 2010-2011 Flu vaccines will protect against the 2009 H1N1 and the H3N2 as well as the Influenza B virus. After about 2 weeks, you will build up antibodies against the flu that will help prevent you getting infected, and if you do, it will be a very mild form, like a cold. The flu shot (actual injection) is an inactivated (not living) form of the virus that is injected directly into your arm, and is appropriate for people over the age of 6 months, and for people who are healthy or with chronic medical conditions. After the injection, you can have redness at the site, soreness, fever (low) and some aches that last 1-2 days. The nasal-spray flu vaccine is made with living, but weakened, flu virus that do not cause the flu and it is approved for healthy people age 2-49 years old who are not pregnant. After the nasal-spray vaccine, you can have some side effects (for adults) such as: runny nose, headache, sore throat, and cough. For children, the side effects can be: runny nose, wheezing, headache, vomiting, muscle ache, and fever. Since the flu season is technically October to February, you can get vaccinated at any time, but I always suggest to get vaccinated as early as you can!
Who should get vaccinated?
The CDC suggests that EVERYONE 6 months and older should get vaccinated yearly! But here is a list of “high risk” people who should definitely get vaccinated:
-Children younger than 5 years old (because they start preschool) but even children under 2 are at risk and have low immune systems- they are also at high risk
-People 50-year-old and over
-People of any age with chronic conditions (i.e. asthma)
-People who live in nursing homes or long-term care facilities
-People who live with or care for those at high risk:
Household contacts of those at high risk for the flu
Household contacts and home care givers for those less than 6 months old
Who should NOT be vaccinated?
-People with an allergy to chicken eggs
-People that have had a severe reaction to Influenza vaccine in the past
-People who have developed Guillian-Barre syndrome* within 6 weeks of a flu vaccine
-Children under 6 months of age
-People with moderate illness that have a current fever (wait until the fever subsides and then you can get a flu shot)
*(Just as a quick aside, Guillian-Barre syndrome is an autoimmune disorder that affects the peripheral nervous system and it is activated by an infectious process; basically you lose control/function of all of your muscles from the bottom of your body up, and remember that your lungs are a muscle, so it usually requires a hospital admission and a breathing tube with an acute attack!! So, you would know if you had it in the past!)
I hope you all are encouraged to go out and get a flu shot soon, they are available at pharmacies and clinics everywhere!!