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Flu Season Suggestions

David Fisk, MD, Infectious Diseases

David Fisk, MD
Dr. Fisk is a board certified specialist in Infectious Diseases at
317 W. Pueblo Street in Santa Barbara. He has published in journals including Clinical Microbiology and Infection, Journal of Infectious Diseases, Clinical Infectious Diseases, Chest, and the New England Journal of Medicine.

Flu seasons can be unpredictable in many ways. The timing, severity, and length of the flu season depends on many factors, including what influenza viruses are spreading and whether or not they match the viruses that are used to develop the vaccine. Flu activity in the U.S. most commonly starts in the fall and peaks in January or February. However, seasonal flu activity can occur as late as April and May. There are reports of new strains of flu this year, but it is unknown how widely they will circulate.

What should the public expect from the flu season this year?

The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. People who have the 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 (very tired)
  • Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.

What complications arise for seniors from the flu?

It has been recognized for many years that people 65 years and older are at greater risk of serious complications from the flu compared with young, healthy adults. It's estimated that 90 percent of seasonal flu-related deaths and more than 60 percent of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations in the United States each year occur in people 65 years and older. This is because immune defenses become weaker with age. Complications of flu can include bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections, dehydration, and worsening of chronic medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure, asthma, or diabetes. Consequently, influenza can be a very serious disease for people 65 and older.

Again, the best way to prevent the flu is by getting the flu vaccine which is especially important for people 65 years and older because of the increased risk of complications, especially post-influenza pneumonia which is very aggressive.

What is a flu shot made up of?

The influenza (flu) viruses selected for inclusion in the seasonal flu vaccines are updated each year based on information about which influenza virus strains are identified and how they are spreading. The seasonal flu vaccine is a multi-component vaccine with each component selected to protect against one of the main groups of influenza viruses circulating in humans. The 2011-2012 flu vaccine will protect against the 2009 H1N1 (swine flu) and two other influenza viruses. It can offer some protection against new strains of the virus as well, so it remains the best defense against this important pathogen.

Who is at the greatest risk for complications from the flu?

In 2010, vaccine experts recommended that everyone sixmonths of age and older should get a flu vaccine each year starting with the 2010-2011 influenza season. The goal is to expand protection against the flu to more people and thereby minimize the spread of influenza to those at greatest risk for serious complications. Those at greatest risk for complications from the flu are:

  • Pregnant women
  • Children younger than age 5, especially children younger than 2 years old
  • People 50 years and older, the risk is greatly increased after age 65
  • People of any age with certain chronic medical conditions (e.g., lung disease, heart disease, diabetes, etc.)
  • People who live in nursing homes and other long term care facilities
  • People who live with or care for those at high risk for complications from the flu

As a result, it is extremely important for caregivers of seniors to get vaccinated to prevent the spread of illness.

What are the side effects people can expect after getting the shot?

The viruses in the flu shot are inactivated so you can't get the flu from the flu shot. Some minor side effects that could occur are soreness, redness or swelling at the injection site; low grade fever; mild muscle aches. Typically, most people don't have any side effects from the flu shot.

When do those side effects become serious?

Almost all people who receive influenza vaccine have no serious problem from it. However, on very rare occasions, flu vaccine can cause serious problems such as allergic reactions.

There are some people who should not receive a flu vaccine without first consulting a physician. These include people who have a severe allergy to chicken eggs, and also to an influenza vaccine in the past, or people who have a moderate to severe illness with a fever.

What opportunities is sansum clinic providing the community?

Sansum Clinic provides many opportunities for anyone in the community to receive a flu shot. Patients can get a flu shot during their appointment with their physician at the Clinic. Additionally, anyone can attend one of our flu clinics which are scheduled at several of our locations starting in October and continuing throughout December.

  • We serve all populations — from children at our pediatrics offices to our older community members at more than 14 community wide flu clinics.
  • No one will be turned away because they can't afford a flu shot. We do request a $20 donation to help cover the costs of the program.
  • Sansum Clinic's annual Flu Shot Program serves more than 8,000 county residents at multiple sites throughout SB, Goleta, Carpinteria and Lompoc.
  • We provide more flu shots than any other organization at a series of clinics so everyone should be able to get a flu shot.
  • In the last 10 years we've provided more than 100,000 flu shots to people in our community.

 

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