Flu, overshadowed by COVID-19, still remains a serious health threat

Union County Health Department
October 5th, 2020     Health & Wellness

So much emphasis has been placed on dealing with the coronavirus that the danger of the older, more established, influenza has been somewhat overshadowed. It still is as much a threat as ever, if not more so.

The Centers for Disease Control estimated as many as 64,000 Americans were killed by the flu this past flu season, although the possible mixture of COVID-19 cases muddy the numbers some. Millions catch the flu and hundreds of thousands require hospitalization.

Vaccine does not guarantee you will not get the flu but it will greatly improve your chances of avoiding the flu and reduce the severity if you do contract it.

Avoiding the flu means avoiding potential serious illness, hospitalization or even death, and it reduces the likelihood of passing influenza on to others who may be vulnerable. The chronically ill and the pregnant can benefit particularly.

Complications of flu can include bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections and worsening of chronic medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure, asthma, or diabetes.

And, of course, a weakened immune system could make one more susceptible to COVID-19.


Myths and side effects

Despite widespread belief to the contrary, flu vaccine will not give you the flu. The injectable vaccine uses dead virus cells to trick the body into making antibodies to protect you, but they are dead. The nasal spray does contain live virus cells but they are crippled to the point they can’t cause trouble.

Flu vaccine can cause side effects in some people that may seem flu-like to them. That includes soreness around the injection area, mild headache or fever, muscle aches, fatigue and even nausea for a few – but they all should be short-lived.

The nasal spray can cause runny nose or wheezing since it is a spray.

Single-dose vials and syringes contain no preservatives such as Thimerosal because they don’t need to; they will be used quickly before spoilage is a problem.


What kinds of vaccines are available

People talk about getting a flu shot, but in reality there are several different types of “flu shots.”

First of all, the flu vaccine that is given before a season is really just a best guess as to which strains will be prevalent, although the “guess” is based on a lot of research.

One vaccine is called trivalent, because it protects against three strains. This year they are H1N1, H3N2 and one B virus.

Another, quadravalent, protects against four strains: the same as the three above plus one more B virus.

There is one vaccine for people allergic to eggs (otherwise used in the production of the vaccine). There is one for those over 65 with an added component to create a stronger immune response and another for the over-65 that essentially just has a double dose of the vaccine.

One version for those ages 18 to 64 is given with a jet injector and then there is the spray.

Your physician should be able to advise you on which is best, but any is better than none.

And, yes, some very few people really are allergic to the vaccines, but that is not common and most already know who they are.


Who should be vaccinated

Basically, the CDC recommends that anyone over six months old be vaccinated each year.

You need to be vaccinated before flu cases increase and spread because it takes about two weeks for the fullest immunity to kick in. The effective life of a vaccination varies and depends some on the health and age of the recipient but in most cases it will carry one through the season.

The need for a new vaccination every year is because the body’s immunity to flu decreases with time, and because flu strains mutate and one this year may be replaced by an entirely different one next year.

There is no evidence that getting a flu vaccination increases one’s chances of getting COVID-19. There was a study linking vaccine with other coronaviruses but it proved to be wrong.


Flu vs. cold

Flu is different from a cold. Flu usually comes on suddenly. People who have flu often feel some or all of these symptoms: fever or feeling feverish/chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, fatigue (tiredness). Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults. It’s important to note that not everyone with flu will have a fever.

Although COVID-19 has several possible symptoms, high fever, cough and difficulty breathing appear to be most common.


How flu spreads

Flu spreads generally in the same way the coronavirus does. Most experts believe that flu viruses spread mainly by tiny droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby. Less often, a person might get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose or possibly their eyes.

You may be able to spread flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick.

People with flu are most contagious in the first three to four days after their illness begins. Some otherwise healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to five to seven days after becoming sick. Some people, especially young children and people with weakened immune systems, might be able to infect others for an even longer time.

The time from when a person is exposed and infected with flu to when symptoms begin is about two days, but can range from about one to four days.


Treating the flu

Antiviral drugs can treat flu illness. It should be noted that antiviral drugs are different from antibiotics. Flu antivirals are prescription medicines and are not available over the counter.

Antiviral drugs can make illness milder and shorten the time you are sick. They also can prevent serious flu complications, like pneumonia, when treatment is started early.

It’s very important that antiviral drugs be used early to treat people who are very sick with flu (for example, people who are in the hospital) and people who are sick with flu and have a greater chance of getting serious flu complications, either because of their age or because they have a high risk medical condition. Other people also may be treated with antiviral drugs by their doctor this season. Most otherwise-healthy people who get flu, however, do not need to be treated with antiviral drugs.

Studies show that flu antiviral drugs work best for treatments when they are started within two days of getting sick. However, starting them later can still be helpful, especially if the sick person has a high-risk health condition or is very sick from flu (for example, hospitalized patients). Follow your doctor’s instructions for taking these drugs.


Vaccine availability

Flu vaccines today are widely available in most doctors’ offices, health departments, pharmacies, clinics and at some workplaces, schools and public health fairs.

Medicare and most insurance pay for the vaccinations.

Baptist Memorial Hospital-Union County will have a free drive-though flu vaccination clinic Tuesday, Oct. 6, from 2 to 4 p.m.

Vehicles can start lining up at 1:30 p.m., and participants will need to enter through the designated area from the front entrance of the hospital. Participants need to remain in their vehicles and complete a brief consent form.  Vehicles will exit out onto Oxford Road.  For more information, call 662-538-2613.


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