Flu shot season begins

Published 1:42 am Saturday, September 27, 2008

Days are becoming shorter, leaves are fading to subtle shades of red and temperatures are becoming cooler. Fall is in the air and so is influenza.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention designated Wednesday as the official start of flu-shot season, which will run through November, and all citizens are urged to receive the yearly vaccination.

Candie Northey, RN, CIC and Infection Control Director for Andalusia Regional Hospital, said a popular misconception is that the vaccine could lead to contracting the flu, but that is not accurate.

“The number one thing people should know is that the flu vaccine cannot give you the flu,” she said. “If you develop the flu after receiving the vaccination, then you were likely already exposed to the virus prior to being injected. It takes a few days to develop the immunity after receiving the vaccination. It is possible to be exposed to the flu after receiving the vaccination and contact the virus prior to building immunity. The number one way to prevent yourself from the getting the flu is to get the vaccine.”

According to the CDC, vaccines should be available in many locations now. Vaccine manufacturers ship their vaccine in lots as it comes off the production lines. Several manufacturers of U.S. influenza vaccine began shipping vaccine for the 2008-09 influenza season in August. Most of the vaccine should be distributed by the end of November.

Vaccine manufacturers are projecting that as many as 143 million to 146 million doses of influenza vaccine will be produced for use in the United States during the 2008-09 influenza season. This is an all-time high supply of vaccine making it possible for more people than ever to seek protection from the flu.

Northey said children as young as 6 months can contract the flu and children, along with the elderly, top the list of individuals most susceptible to the virus.

“Children can easily spread the flu virus,” she said. “They typically are in closer proximity with one another than adults during activities at daycare or in school. Children has are capable of spreading the virus for a longer period of time than adults.”

Northey said the typical opening flu symptoms — sore throat, fever, cough, running nose — do not begin to show until 24 hours after contracting the virus and treatment options become limited to fever-controlling regiments after an additional 24 hours.

“Antibiotics are not used to treat the flu, because it is a viral illness,” she said. “There is an anti-viral that can be prescribed to held combat the virus, but it is generally only effective if taken within 24 hours of experiencing flu symptoms.”

According to the CDC, yearly flu vaccination should begin as soon as the vaccine is available and continue throughout the influenza season, into December, January, and beyond. Influenza season most often peaks in February, but influenza viruses can continue to cause illness into the spring.

The protection (immunity) provided by the vaccine lasts about a year, so vaccination in August or September provides protection for the duration of the United States flu season, which can last until April or May. Getting vaccinated as soon as the vaccine is available may be most important for children being vaccinated against flu for the first time, who need to get two doses of flu vaccine at least four weeks apart.

Northey said the old excuse of being deathly afraid of needles is no longer valid thanks to a new method of flu vaccination.

“I know several people who claim to be terribly afraid of needles,” she said. “If you cannot stand the thought of needles, then you can now consult you physician about a nasal vaccination. It is only available through physicians, but it eliminates the need for a needle.

For more information about influenza symptoms, treatment and vaccinations visit www.cdc.gov.