Carol Thelen, CRNP, Responds to Questions Regarding Preparations for the Flu Season
Carol Thelen, CRNP, family nurse practitioner with Mercy Personal Physicians at Lutherville, recently responded to questions from the health/wellness website, GetOld.com, regarding preparations for the flu season. Here are Carol’s responses…
When does flu season begin, end and peak?
While flu spreads every year, the timing, severity, and length of the season varies from one year to another…There is no true beginning or end, flu can happen at any time, and is very unpredictable--it can vary in different parts of the country and from season to season. That said, the U.S. experiences epidemics of seasonal flu each year, and the epidemic is commonly called “flu season.” In the United States, flu viruses are most common during the fall and winter months. Influenza activity often begins to increase in October and November. Most of the time flu activity peaks between December and February and can last as late as May.
What do we know about the coming flu season? Is this year’s strain or strains likely to be more or less severe than usual?
It’s not possible to predict what this seasonal flu go-round will be like. While flu spreads every year, the timing, severity, and length of the season varies from one year to another.
Who should get a flu vaccination and when?
All persons over 6 months of age should get the flu vaccination every year, unless they have a life-threatening allergy to eggs or other component of the vaccine. Each person over 6 months of age should get the vaccine before the end of October. If they cannot get to their healthcare provider or pharmacy for vaccination by November, vaccination is still very worthwhile through springtime or until the vaccine is no longer available.
Why is it especially important for people 65 and older to get a flu shot?
It is especially important for people 65 and older, and children under age 5, to get a flu shot because they are much more likely to die from complications of influenza than healthy people of other ages.
Can I still get the flu even if I get a flu shot?
There is still a possibility you could get the flu even if you got vaccinated, because of three reasons.
First, it takes 2 weeks after the shot for your body to build up the immunity to fight the virus, so you could catch the flu before or slightly after the shot and your body will not be fully ready to fight it.
Second, your age and health status can affect how well your body builds up its immunity after it gets the shot.
Third, the similarity or “match” between the viruses used to make the vaccine and those circulating in your particular community may differ. If the viruses in the vaccine and the influenza viruses circulating in the community are closely matched, vaccine effectiveness is higher. If they are not closely matched, vaccine effectiveness can be reduced.
It’s important to remember that even when the viruses are not closely matched, the vaccine can still protect many people and prevent flu-related complications. Vaccinated people are better protected from serious complications because antibodies made in response to the vaccine can provide cross-protection against different but related influenza viruses.
What are some other ways to avoid the flu?
The most effective way to avoid the flu is to get the vaccination.
Wash your hands often with soap and water for a full 15 seconds or more. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub. Whenever you or your household come home, wash your hands before doing anything else.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Germs spread this way.
Try to avoid close contact with sick people. If close to someone who appears sick or coughing in a public venue (movies, aircraft, shopping), maintain 3-6 feet distance if possible.
Viruses can be picked up from surfaces, so minimize touching them—think public doorknobs, credit card machines, elevator buttons, pens at stores and offices. Bring your own pen to the store, press buttons with a tissue over your finger.
Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs like the flu.
What are the signs of flu, and how can I tell it’s the flu and not the common cold?
Flu can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. The flu is different from a cold, but it is impossible to tell for sure if you have the flu based on symptoms alone.. The flu usually comes on suddenly, and often has more severe symptoms. People who have the flu often feel some or all of these symptoms:
- Fever over 100 degrees, or feeling feverish/chills (not everyone with flu will have a fever)
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle or body aches
- Fatigue (tiredness)
- Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.
If your healthcare provider needs to know for sure whether you have the flu, there are laboratory tests that can be done, but usually it is not necessary to test because it usually will not change the way your illness is treated.
What should I do at the first signs of flu?
While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them. Any person with symptoms of flu should contact their health care provider if
- Under age 5, or
- At age 65 and older, or
- Pregnant, or in a high risk group (Asthma and other chronic lung diseases, heart disease, blood disorders including sickle cell disease, endocrine disorders including diabetes, kidney disorders, liver disorders, , neurological conditions, weakened immune systems including people with cancer or long-term steroids, extreme obesity, people younger than 19 on long-term aspirin), or very sick or worried about their illness.
If you are sick with flu symptoms, stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. (Your fever should be gone for 24 hours without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.)
Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it. Wash your hands after you throw away the tissue.
--Carol Thelen, CRNP
Carol Thelen is Board Certified by the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. She provides comprehensive health care management for all members of the family, including infants, children and adults. She diagnoses and treats common health care problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure, infections, and injuries.
Founded in 1874, Mercy Medical Center is a university-affiliated medical facility named one of the top 100 hospitals in the U.S. by Thomson-Reuters with a national reputation for women’s health. Mercy is home to the nationally acclaimed Weinberg Center for Women’s Health and Medicine as well as the $400+ million, 20-story Mary Catherine Bunting Center. For more information visit Mercy online at www.mdmercy.com, Facebook, Twitter or call 1-800-MD-MERCY.