Influenza (also called ?the flu?) is a viral infection in the nose, throat and lungs which affects 10% to 20% of Americans during flu season (January thru March). Of these, 20,000 people die because of the flu and complications. Most of these people are in a high risk category and should absolutely have a yearly vaccine.
Those at risk include:
- All children age 6 to 59 months
- All adults age 65 and over
- All women who are or will be pregnant during the flu season
- Residents in nursing homes and long-term care facilities
- Those with long-term health problems
- Health care workers who have direct contact with patients
- Caregivers and household contacts of high risk individuals noted above.
The best way to avoid getting the flu is to get the influenza vaccine each fall before the flu season begins. The flu shot contains dead viruses that are thought to be most likely to cause infection for that given year so you cannot get the flu from the flu shot. If the choice is right, the vaccine is 70% to 90% effective in preventing the flu in healthy people under 65 years of age. If you’re older than 65, the vaccine is less likely to prevent the flu but even if you get the flu after being vaccinated, your flu symptoms should be milder than if you didn’t get the vaccine. You’ll also be less likely to get complications from the flu.
The flu shot should be avoided if you have had an allergic reaction to a flu shot in the past or if you have an allergy to eggs. Eating healthy, exercising and getting enough sleep play a major role in preventing the flu because it helps to boost your immune system. Should you develop symptoms suggestive of the flu there is antiviral medication but it requires you to start it within 48 hours of the start of the symptoms.