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Side-Stepping the Flu This Year

Influenza or "the flu" is an infection of the respiratory tract caused by the influenza virus and is more severe than a cold. The season for flu generally begins in December in the Rocky Mountain region.

Most people who get the flu recover completely in 1 to 2 weeks, but some people develop serious and potentially life-threatening complications, such as pneumonia. Influenza causes more than 20,000 deaths nationwide and more than 100,000 hospitalizations. The elderly and chronically ill are much more likely to develop serious complications with influenza infection than are younger, healthier people.

Influenza viruses mutate over time so that people are susceptible to influenza virus infection throughout life. A person infected with influenza virus develops antibody against that virus, but as the virus changes, the "older" antibody no longer recognizes the "newer" virus and reinfection can occur. The older antibody can however, provide partial protection against reinfection.

Sometimes a new subtype of the virus suddenly emerges, leaving large numbers of people (sometimes the entire population) with no antibody protection against the virus. If the new virus is capable of being spread easily from person to person, a worldwide epidemic, called a pandemic, can occur. During the last century, pandemics occurred in 1918, 1957 and 1968, causing large numbers of deaths.

Symptoms & Complications of Flu can include:

  • fever (usually high)
  • headache
  • extreme tiredness
  • dry cough
  • sore throat
  • runny or stuffy nose
  • muscle aches.
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea are much more common among children than adults.
  • Some of the complications caused by flu include bacterial pneumonia, dehydration and worsening of chronic medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure, asthma or diabetes. Children may get sinus problems and ear infections.

Priority Groups for Influenza Vaccination

The following priority groups for vaccination with inactivated influenza vaccine are considered to be of equal importance and are:

  • all children aged 6-23 months
  • adults aged 65 years and older
  • persons aged 2-64 years with underlying chronic medical conditions
  • all women who will be pregnant during the influenza season
  • residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities
  • children aged 6 months-18 years on chronic aspirin therapy
  • health-care workers involved in direct patient care
  • out-of-home caregivers and household contacts of children aged <6 months

Other Vaccination Recommendations if there is a Vaccine shortage:

  • Persons in priority groups identified above should be encouraged to search locally for vaccine if their regular health-care provider does not have vaccine available.
  • Intra -nasally administered, live, attenuated influenza vaccine, if available, should be encouraged for healthy persons who are aged 5-49 years if they are not pregnant, (including health-care workers {except those who care for severely immuno-compromised patients in special care units} and persons caring for children aged <6 months.
  • Certain children aged <9 years require 2 doses of vaccine if they have not previously been vaccinated. All children at high risk for complications from influenza, including those aged 6-23 months, who present for vaccination, should be vaccinated with a first or second dose, depending on vaccination status. However, doses should not be held in reserve to ensure that 2 doses will be available. Instead, available vaccine should be used to vaccinate persons in priority groups on a first-come, first-serve basis.
  • Vaccination of Persons in Non priority Groups - Persons who are not included in one of the priority groups described above should be informed about the urgent vaccine supply situation and asked to forego or defer vaccination.

For more information on the availability of Influenza immunizations, contact your family physician or the Garfield County Public Health Nurse.

What are other steps that can be taken to prevent the flu?

There are other good health habits that can help prevent the flu. These are:
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.
  • If possible, stay home from work, school and errands when you are sick. You will help prevent others from catching your illness.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. It may prevent those around you from getting sick.
  • Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs.
  • Avoid touching your eyes,nose or mouth. Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose or mouth.

Also, you may discuss with your physician, the possible use of Influenza antiviral medications. These are drugs that suppress the ability of influenza viruses to reproduce and can often reduce the duration of symptoms and some complications from influenza virus infection.

For more information on influenza and flu vaccinations, other flu prevention techniques and Influenza antiviral medications, log on to the Center for Disease Control web site..

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