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HEALTH UPDATE

Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.
World Health Organization

Influenza

Edited by Samit Shah, Pharm. D.


Guyana Journal, December 2008



What is Influenza (Also known as the flu)?
Influenza is a contagious respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus. It can range from mild-severe illness and even result in death. One way to prevent the flu is by getting vaccinated yearly. Every year in the US about 5-20% of the population get the flu. More than 200,000 people are hospitalized and about 36,000 people die from the flu annually in the US. Certain people are at a high risk of serious complications from the flu such as:
• The elderly • Young children • Those with present health conditions such as: diabetes, heart disease, asthma, etc.

What are some possible symptoms of flu?

• High fever • Headache • Extreme tiredness • Dry cough
• Sore throat • Runny or stuffy nose • Stomach symptoms
• Muscle aches
(commonly found in children):
nausea; vomiting; diarrhea

What are some possible complications?

• Bacterial pneumonia • Ear infections • Sinus infection
• Dehydration • Worsening of chronic medical conditions
(eg. diabetes, heart disease, asthma)

How does the flu spread?
The flu virus is usually spread from person-to-person through coughing or sneezing. It is possible to get infected by touching something infected with the flu virus and then touching the nose or mouth. Healthy adults may infect others a day before experiencing symptoms and up to five days after becoming sick. Flu viruses can be passed on to someone else before a person even becomes aware of being sick. It is important to be aware and prevent spreading the virus.

Ways to prevent seasonal flu
There are two types of vaccines available:

1. Flu shot: an inactivated vaccine containing a killed virus that is given with a needle. It is approved for people 6 months or older, including healthy people and people with chronic medical conditions.
2. Nasal spray flu vaccine: an activated vaccine with a live, weakened flu virus that does not cause the flu. It is also known as live attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV). It is approved for use in healthy people 2-49 years of age who are not pregnant.

Approximately two weeks after vaccination, antibodies are developed that will protect against influenza virus infection. Flu vaccines will not protect against flu-like illnesses that are not caused by an influenza virus.

Lifestyle changes to help prevent the flu

1. Avoid close contacts: Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, try to stay away from other people to prevent them from getting sick.
2. Stay home when you are sick: If it is possible, stay away from work, school or errands to prevent the spread of the virus.
3. Cover your mouth and nose: When you sneeze or cough, cover your mouth or nose to prevent the virus from spreading.
4. Wash your hands: Keep your hands clean to prevent yourself from getting contaminated by germs.
5. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth: Virus can spread by touching a contaminated area and then touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
6. Practice other good health habits: Sleep well; Stay physically active; Manage your stress; Drink plenty of fluids; Eat healthy

When is the best time to get vaccinated?
Annual vaccination should start in September or as soon as the vaccines are available. Influenza outbreaks can happen as early as October and most influenza activity peaks in January or later.

Who should get vaccinated?
Anyone who wants to lessen his or her risk from getting the flu can get vaccinated. On the other hand, certain people should get vaccinated because they are at a high risk of having serious flu-related complications and/or they live with or have frequent contacts with a high-risk person(s). During flu season, if there is limited availability of vaccines, there are groups that will be prioritized to receive the vaccines.

People who should get vaccinated each year are:

• Children aged 6 months-19 years old
• Pregnant women
• People 50 years old and older
• People at any age with chronic medical conditions
• People living in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
• People who live with or care for those at high risk for complications from flu, for example:

° Health care workers
° Household contacts of persons at high risk for complications from the flu
° Household contacts and out of home caregivers of children less than 6 months of age because they are too young to get vaccinated

Who should not be vaccinated?

• People who have a severe allergy to chicken eggs
• People who have had a severe reaction to an influenza vaccination in the past
• People who previously developed Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), a state in which the body’s immune system attacks its nervous system
• Children less than 6 months of age
• People who have a moderate or severe illness with a fever should wait to get vaccinated until their symptoms lessen.

How effective is the vaccine?
There are a lot of factors to take into account to find out how effective the vaccine is. It depends on the age and health status of the individual being vaccinated, and if the vaccine matches the strain of the virus.

What are some side effects of the vaccine?

1. Flu shot – Soreness, redness or swelling where the shot is given;
Low grade fever; Aches

2. Nasal-spray vaccine or LAIV

Children: Adults:
• Runny nose • Runny nose
• Wheezing • Headache
• Headache • Sore throat
• Vomiting • Cough
• Muscle aches
• Fever

Warnings Monitoring
Monitor for signs and symptoms of influenza. Seek medical help if signs and symptoms of influenza are present. Please talk to your physician, pharmacist, or other health care provider, or visit the CDC website if you have any additional questions.

Reference
1. Fast Facts. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Website. http://www.cdc.gov/flu/keyfacts.htm. Accessed October 28, 2008

Dr. Shah is a Senior Content Development Specialist in Horsham, PA.

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