Don’t slack on winter vaccinations
Cold weather is here—the time for many of us to start thinking about getting a flu shot. The 2018-2019 vaccine is now available and, for those of you who have not received one, this is a great time to make your appointment with your doctor. Review your immunization status and talk about other winter health issues. There have been changes in recent years to the flu vaccine, but there are other vaccines now recommended for this time of the year
A Brief Primer on Influenza
Worldwide, seasonal influenza kills an estimated 250,000 to 500,000 people each year. The majority of deaths occur in adults 65 and older. Economic costs in the U.S. related to the flu have been estimated to be more than $80 billion annually.
In this area, doctors report that they are beginning to see influenza, along with an increased number of people with pneumonia.
The arrival of flu season begins in school-aged children, followed by adults, usually beginning in late October, early November. The person will become ill suddenly—compared to other viral syndromes that may take 24 to 48 hours for symptoms to fully develop. A sick person will usually face a temperature that rises above 101 degrees, severe aches and pains in the joints and muscles and around the eyes; weakness; headache; dry cough and a sore throat. Recovery can take one to two weeks.
Flu is communicated in the same way as all other common cold viruses, by breathing in droplets in the air when a person coughs or sneezes close to you, or by touching a contaminated surface and then transferring the virus to your mouth or eyes.
At-risk populations for complications of influenza are infants and children, along with people with heart, lung, or circulation conditions, and reduced or impaired immunity to infections. Influenza can be dangerous to the elderly, especially those who live in residential homes, where there is increased risk of contracting the virus through contact with others.
Who should get a flu shot?
The following individuals are considered a priority for vaccinations:
• Pregnant women
• Young children over the age of six months, especially those with chronic disease
• People 50 and older
• People of any age with chronic medical conditions
• People who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
• People who live with or care for those who are at high risk for complications
• Health-care workers
• Household contacts of high-risk persons
• Household contacts and out-of-home caregivers of children less than six months old, since these children are too young to be vaccinated
The influenza vaccine is considered very effective, but not perfect. There are various types of vaccine strengths available depending on the age of the person. In years that there is a “match” between vaccine viruses and circulating viruses, the vaccine has been shown to prevent influenza in about 70 to 90% of healthy people younger than age 65. For older adults living in the community who have chronic health problems, the flu shot has been shown to be between 30 and 70% effective in preventing hospitalization for pneumonia and influenza.
What are the risks from getting a flu shot?
The viruses in the flu shot are killed, meaning you cannot get the flu from a flu shot. Most people will notice some soreness, redness, or swelling where the shot was given and occasional low-grade fever and aching within 24 hours of receiving the shot. Taking acetomenophen/Tylenol or ibuprofen will relieve these symptoms. Do not use aspirin, especially in children.
People who are allergic to eggs or have had a reaction to the flu shot in the past should not get a flu shot before seeing a physician.
A rare flu-related problem is Guillain-Barré syndrome, an illness characterized by fever, nerve damage and muscle weakness. Only one out of every one million vaccinated people may be at risk.
Other Important Winter Vaccinations
In addition to influenza protection, the following are additional vaccinations recommended for adults:
Shingles Vaccine – for adults 65+. Protects against shingles, which is a painful rash caused by the same virus that causes chicken pox. If you’ve had chicken pox before, the virus can reactivate years later, causing shingles. This is a one-time vaccination.
Tetanus Vaccine – for all age groups. Protects against tetanus disease, which causes a painful locking of the muscles all over the body. In some cases, tetanus can be fatal. Most adults had a tetanus vaccination at a young age, but you need boosters every 10 years.
Pertussis Vaccine – for all age groups. Protects against whooping cough, which is on the rise in adolescents and adults. Coughing fits can be severe enough to fracture ribs or lose consciousness. Adults with pertussis can infect susceptible young children who have not yet received immunization. Adults need a booster.
Pneumococcal Vaccine – everyone older than six weeks. Protects against serious infections like pneumonia and meningitis. There are two different forms of this vaccine, PPSV23 (Pneumovax 23) and PCV13 (Prevnar 13). Although it is recommended that the vaccines are first administered at different times during adolescence, adults 50 and older are recommended to receive both. Consult with your doctor about your need for booster immunizations.