While the start of fall usually means cooler temperatures, lower humidity and picturesque scenery, it also begins something that most, if not all of us, dread. It is the beginning of flu season.
“Flu season typically begins in the fall and ends in late spring,” said Mary Beth Baker, RN, employee health nurse at Canonsburg General Hospital of the West Penn Allegheny Health System. “People can get their flu vaccines as early as August, but optimally in September or October. The vaccine will last one entire flu season.”
This year’s vaccine will protect against three strains of the flu, as well as the H1N1 virus: A/California/7/09 (H1N1)-like virus (pandemic (H1N1) 2009 influenza virus), A/Perth/16/2009 (H3N2) – like virus, and the B/Brisbane/60/2008-like virus, according to Baker. And, the decision of which strains of the flu to protect against is based on
“There is always a possibility of a less than optimal match between the virus strains predicted to circulate and the virus strains that end up causing the most illness,” Baker said. “However, even if the
vaccine and the circulating strains are not an exact match, the vaccine may reduce the severity of the illness or may help prevent influenza-related complications.”
According to Baker, the Federal Drug Administration, the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control, as well as other public health agencies, study virus samples that are collected worldwide to develop what they believe will be the most prevalent strains of the flu for that particular year.
There are several symptoms that may be indicative of the flu, none of which are gastrointestinal in nature.
“A sudden onset of a fever, aching muscles, the onset of a non-productive cough and sore throat are signs that someone may have the flu,” Baker said. “Although they also may suffer a runny nose, eye pain and a sensitivity to light.”
And unlike other viruses that often circulate during the fall when school returns to session, the flu virus generally makes an individual very ill with symptoms lasting from four to ten days. An individual infected with the flu virus can actually make others ill two to four days before their symptoms appear.
“The best defense against the flu is precautionary measures such as the getting your flu vaccine and frequent hand washing," Baker said.
It is also important that an individual with the flu stay home and away from other people.
The first thing people should do when they suspect they have the flu is to call their physician, and the earlier they do that, the better, as the physician may want to prescribe an antiviral agent, according to
Flu sufferers also may find relief from getting plenty of rest, drinking a lot of fluids and taking over-the-counter medications as directed by their physician.
“More than 200,000 people in the United States are hospitalized each year due to complications from the flu,” Baker said. “It is hard to determine just how many people develop the flu, however, as many do not report their illness or think that they have the flu, but really do not.”
Vaccination is the best form of prevention, and children as young as six months old can be vaccinated, in the form of a shot, which, for the first vaccination, is administered in two doses, four weeks apart.
“The first dose primes the immune system, and the second dose provides immune protection,” Baker said. “After a person receives their first vaccination, they can then be vaccinated once a year, either in the form of a shot for children ages six months old to eight years old, or as a nasal spray in healthy people who are not pregnant and between the ages of two to 49.”
For more information about the flu vaccination or who should be vaccinated, visit the CDC’s website at http://www.cdc.gov/flu.