Flu Season is Upon Us
Another flu season is upon us. While doctors will tell you the most effective way to prevent the flu –
yes, you do need a flu shot – they may not discuss each vaccine option in depth or all the germy details
on how the virus spreads. To help you better navigate the months ahead, we’ve compiled a list of
important facts you should know.
1. You can still get the flu, even if you get the flu shot. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
estimates that each year the flu vaccine is between 70 and 90 percent effective, so there is still a chance
you may become infected even if you’ve been vaccinated.
Two factors determine how well the flu vaccine works. The first is the characteristics and immune
status of the person being vaccinated. Generally, the flu vaccine works best in healthy adults and older
children. The second factor that determines effectiveness is how similar the flu viruses that the vaccine
was designed to fight are to the influenza germs actually spreading in the community.
“Seasonal flu vaccines are designed to protect against infection and illness caused by the flu viruses
that research indicates will be most common during that flu season,” explains Margarita Rohr, MD, of
the Joan H Tisch Center for Women’s Health at NYU Langone Medical Center. “How good the match is
determines the effectiveness for that particular year.” However, it is important to remember that the flu
vaccine is still the best protection against the flu.
2. You may be contagious before you even know you have the flu. Most healthy adults can infect other
people with the flu virus beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to five to seven days after
becoming sick. To best protect yourself and others around you, practice good hand-washing hygiene and
take other precautions like covering your mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
3. You can request mercury-free flu vaccines. Thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative, has been
used in vaccines for decades to prevent contamination from germs, bacteria, and fungi. Though
several studies have shown that low levels of thimerosal do not cause harm, it has been removed from
many vaccines for use in children. While some forms of the flu vaccine still contain thimerosal, if you
prefer, you can request a single-dose unit or the nasal spray option, both of which are thimerosal-free.
However, all options for the flu vaccine are safe.
“There’s no reason to be overly concerned or worried about any of the vaccines,” says Charles Foster,
MD, pediatric infectious disease specialist at Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital. “It’s more important
that you get vaccinated than wait for a specific type of vaccine to be available.”
4. The flu virus can travel up to six feet. If you notice someone around you is sick, keep your distance.
When someone infected coughs, sneezes, or talks, they can spread the flu virus through droplets in the
air that can travel up to six feet and land in the mouths or noses of others nearby.
5. There is a right way to wash your hands. The most effective preventive measure you can take to ward
off the flu (besides getting the flu shot) is washing your hands. So make sure you’re washing your hands
properly. The CDC recommends using soap and warm water, and rubbing hands together for 15 to 20
seconds, the amount of time it would take you to sing “Happy Birthday” twice in your head. Use paper
towels or an air dryer to dry your hands and, if possible, a paper towel to turn off the faucet.
6. The flu vaccine comes in needle-free options. A fear of needles is no reason not to get the flu vaccine.
The FDA recently approved a needle-free injector for use with the Afluria flu vaccine in people ages 18
to 64. A nasal spray vaccine – the recommended delivery method for the flu vaccine in children ages two
to eight – is also available for people ages two to 49.
7. A high-dose flu vaccine is available, but only for adults over 65. Older adults are eligible and may want
to consider the high-dose vaccine option available to them. “The thought is that the human immune
system becomes weaker with age, which puts older people at greater risk of complications from flu,”
Rohr says. “In addition, there is a decreased immune response to vaccination as a person ages, so the
thought is the higher dose will provide better immunity for older individuals.”
8. You can still exercise with the flu. Though rest is paramount to overcoming the flu, some physical
activity may be possible with milder symptoms. “It’s on an as-tolerated basis,” Foster says. Listen to your
body for signs that you are over-exerting yourself and do not exercise if you have a fever. If you have
any concerns, talk to your doctor.
9. Some home remedies may actually work. Though there is no scientific evidence that home remedies
have any benefit against the flu, there’s a reason why a bowl of chicken soup will often help you feel
better. According to the Mayo Clinic, it acts as an anti-inflammatory and temporarily speeds up the
movement of mucus, possibly bringing relief to congestion. Rohr recommends her patients gargle with
salt water three times a day and breathe in steam from a hot shower or a sink with hot water to hel
clear nasal passages.
10. Some over-the-counter nasal sprays can become addictive. While nasal sprays help ease congestion,
those that belong to a drug class called vasoconstrictors constrict the blood vessels that cause
congestion, which can lead to a rebound effect. That means your nose will continue to need the spray in
order to get congestion relief. As an alternative, use saline-based sprays to help clean nasal passages.
MSN Health and Fitness 2014
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