Now that flu season is upon us, it is vital to get a flu vaccine. All of our patients are sick in some way, and many are elderly, which means that their chances of catching the flu are greatly increased. Often, the flu can lead to other serious complications such as pneumonia or death. The simplest way to avoid all of these threats is to get a flu shot.
You can get a flu shot from your doctor, from a clinic or local drugstore, or even from us! Just ask your nurse for more information. Typically, the flu vaccine takes two weeks to be effective, as your body needs time to build up antibodies against the flu virus. Even if you had a flu vaccine last year, it is important to get a new one this year because the influenza virus mutates constantly. Last year’s vaccine will no longer be effective. This year’s flu vaccine has been specially formulated to protect against the current strain of the virus.
Flu activity is highest from December to February, so don’t waste any time. Once a flu outbreak begins, it can be hard to stay healthy. Getting a flu shot will protect you most of the time and keep you healthy and safe.
Since experts are predicting an influenza epidemic this season, it would be in your best interest to follow these tips for fighting off the flu. Unfortunately, due to a genetic mutation of the flu virus, the flu shot given this year will only be effective for one third of the people who received it. Therefore, your chances of catching the flu are greatly increased. This doesn’t mean you have to lock yourself in your underground fallout shelter until summer, however. The CDC is warning people not to panic, and simply to take more precautions to prevent catching the flu. Fighting off the flu (and preventing it entirely) is definitely possible if you follow these steps.
1. Get the Flu Shot
You’re not crazy – we DID just mention how this year’s flu shot is ineffective due to a genetic mutation in the influenza virus. However, that doesn’t mean it’s completely ineffective. It is estimated that the vaccine will be protective one third of the time. Additionally, experts believe that even if it doesn’t stop the flu entirely, it may prevent serious complications that require hospitalization. In other words, if you don’t already have a flu shot for this year… it might be worth getting one.
2. Wash Your Hands
It’s another obvious one, but people often forget to do it! Washing your hands entails more than just dipping your fingers in water for two seconds. First, completely wet your hands and apply soap. Lather your hands in suds by rubbing them together, reaching in between your fingers, under your nails, and the back of your hand. Scrub for a full 20 seconds, and then rinse them off. Sounds like a lot of effort, but it will do wonders for keeping you germ-free.
3. Avoid Contact with Sick People
This is hard to accomplish when your entire office comes down with the flu, but it’s something you should really try to accomplish. You can’t get sick if you aren’t in contact with the virus! Ask your boss if you can work from home until people are illness-free. Or if it’s your home that is infected, try sleeping in a different, uninfected room from the sick. Disinfect any shared surfaces before touching them.
Photo by flu.gov.
4. Don’t Touch It!
While it may seem natural to rub your eyes after a tiring day or bring your fingers to your chin in contemplation, this is actually a big no-no. Touching your eyes, nose, and mouth is one of the easiest ways for germs to spread! You collect germs on your hands by touching people or things around you. Luckily, these germs can’t just break through your skin – they need an orifice to access the inside of your body. Unfortunately, touching your face is so commonplace for many people that don’t even realize the dangers of germ transmission.
5. Take Antiviral Drugs
Because the flu is caused by a virus, antibiotics are ineffective against it. However, there are some medications that can help calm things down if you do contract the flu. Antiviral drugs can’t cure influenza, but they can make the illness milder and shorten the time you are sick. They also are good at preventing serious flu complications that can lead to a hospitalization. These aren’t over-the-counter though, so you will need to get a prescription from your doctor before taking them.
6. Get Some Sleep!
Sleep is a glorious thing, but it’s even more glorious during flu season. Keeping yourself well-rested with eight to ten hours of sleep a night is key to preventing the flu. Your body repairs and restores itself when resting, which means if you do happen to catch the flu virus, this is the time when it will produce antibodies to fight it. Not getting enough sleep could leave your body defenseless against the oncoming influenza attack.
7. Eat Healthy Food
The foods you eat act as fuel for your body. If you’re chowing down on Cheetos and Mountain Dew, chances are your body won’t have the nutrients it requires to keep your immune system running effectively. Feed yourself foods high in essential vitamins and minerals. Eating fresh fruit and vegetables does wonders for your immune system, which will in turn increase your flu-fighting defenses.
There’s no guarantee that following these steps will keep you flu-free. Sometimes, you just can’t avoid your influenza destiny. Fighting off the flu, however, should at least be a part of your winter mindset, as losing a week of your life to high fevers, body aches, headaches, sniffling, and vomiting is certainly no fun.
A mutation to the H3N2 strain of the flu means that vaccines that were administered this year may only be effective one third of the time.
The CDC, which produces the vaccines, chose what viruses to include back in early February based on scientific predictions. Unfortunately, the virus began to show substantial mutations in March as the vaccine was already in production.
Rates of flu are spiking earlier than usual, and cities are reporting higher rates of hospitalization compared to previous years.
“We know that in seasons when H3 viruses predominant, we tend to have seasons that are the worst flu years, with more hospitalizations from flu and more deaths from the flu,” said CDC director Tom Frieden.
“Unfortunately, about half of the H3N2 viruses that we’ve analyzed this season are different from the H3N2 virus that’s included in this year’s flu vaccine. They are different enough that we’re concerned that protection from vaccinations against these drifted H3N2 viruses may be lower than we usually see.”
6.8 percent of all deaths reported during the 51st week of 2014 were related to pneumonia and influenza. There have already been 15 pediatric fatalities this year, compared to four pediatric deaths during the same time period last year, which seem to suggest that the 2014-2015 flu season will be even more dangerous than usual.
“It’s more significant than we’ve seen over the past two years,” said Gregg Lagan, a spokesman for Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines, Iowa. “It’s even catching individuals who have the flu shot.”
Currently, 36 states are experiencing high rates of flu activity. Pennsylvania is in the upper moderate range, while bordering states such as New Jersey and Maryland are in the upper high range.
So far, 2,643 people have been hospitalized for influenza, which equates to a hospitalization rate of 9.7 per 100,000 people.
“Our medical director said that in his eight years at the hospital, he had never seen double digits” of patients hospitalized for the flu, said Jill Chadwick, a spokeswoman at the University of Kansas Hospital in Kansas City, Kan. It has had 25 people admitted with the flu, two of which have died.
Regardless of its effectiveness, the CDC is still recommending people to get flu vaccines if they haven’t already. The flu vaccine may provide protection in some people, and it also may reduce severe outcomes such as hospitalization and death even if it doesn’t offer full protection.
Photo by Terry Korte
Most of us hate the winter. We avoid going outside at all costs, and when we must, we dash back into our cozy homes like it’s an Olympic event. And for good reason – death rates peak during this time of year. Chilly temperatures cause your blood pressure to soar, especially in the elderly, leading to an increase of heart attacks and strokes. The cold is uncomfortable and dangerous and annoying and… healthy?
Some studies suggest that the cold may not actually be as bad for us as we thought. In addition to all the obvious problems it can cause, such as frostbite, hypothermia, low vitamin D levels, and flu, it has several beneficial effects that can extend our lives.
When your body gets exposed to the cold, blood travels from the periphery of your body to the interior so that it can better protect your vital organs. While this leaves skin and extremities unprotected, it does train your blood vessels to be responsive. This can be essential if you ever get stuck outside for long periods of time, as your body will be properly trained on how to react.
Your body directs blood to the interior of the body to provide heat to vital organs.
Additionally, it is thought that moderately cold temperatures help to activate brown fat. Brown fat is a heat-producing, calorie-burning fat that helps to regulate body temperature. It is found in babies, but usually disappears with age. Being in the cold helps to reactivate these cells, which means you could potentially lose weight simply by being cold.
A study by Finnish researchers proved that outdoor workers had more brown fat than those who worked indoors. Another study done by the Dutch said that 23 out of 24 volunteers had their brown fat activated when exposed to a temperature of 61 degrees Fahrenheit.
Cold weather is also known to kill off disease-causing insects and microorganisms. This means that all those pesky mosquitoes, flies, fleas, and ticks that you know and hate all succumb during these months. Without this ritualistic cleansing, many of these parasites would continue to breed and spread their plagues, causing epidemics across the nation.
What is the conclusion to draw from all this? Yes, the cold is still bad. But, if you must suffer through it, take comfort in the fact that it is not ALL bad.
Don’t let the flu destroy you this season – get a flu shot!
Influenza, more commonly known as the flu, is in the midst of an unyielding attack against humanity. Even as you read this, the virus is embedding itself in your family and friends, murdering their healthy cells and using them to reproduce its own genetic material. It won’t be long before the virus catches on to you, and you too become a fellow fallen comrade, drenched in sickness and weary with fever.
Luckily, there is a way to put a stop to this genocidal influenza invasion – a flu shot.
There are a lot of common misconceptions about this magical elixir, probably the biggest of which is that it is a magical elixir. In actuality, a flu shot is a combination of antibodies that have been grown in egg protein. It is these antibodies that help your body create its own protection against the virus.
Here are five more common misconceptions about the flu shot that you should know about before going under the needle.
1. Flu shots can give you the flu.
Unfortunately for the haters, this fact is simply not true. According for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, the flu vaccine contains viruses that have been inactivated and are not infectious. Therefore, there is no possible way to contract the illness from the shot itself.
2. If you get a flu shot, you can’t get the flu.
As with all things human-made, there is always a chance of error. There will never be a foolproof flu shot because it is too difficult to predict every strain of flu virus that will be circulating during the flu season. In addition, it takes about two weeks after vaccination for the antibodies to develop in your body, which means you could contract the flu during this period.
A magical elixir? Nah, it’s just the flu shot.
3. The flu can’t kill you.
Oh really? As of January 4, 2014, the 2013-2014 flu season has killed six people in the state of Pennsylvania alone. During the 2012-2013 season, 200 people were killed in Pennsylvania. In 2010-2011, there were 90. People more at risk for complications include pregnant women, older adults, and young children.
4. You only get the flu in the winter.
While the high peak of influenza infections does occur in January or February, the actual flu season lasts from October to September. This means you have a chance to catch the flu at any point during the year. During May 2011, there were 67 confirmed cases of flu in Pennsylvania. Numbers were also palpable in the summer, with 15 cases in June and four in July.
5. Only old or sick people die from the flu.
There are a high number of elderly and chronically ill patients who succumb to the clutches of the flu; however, these do not account for all flu deaths. Three people between the ages of 25 and 49 have already died this year in Pennsylvania. In 2012-2013, two people ages 10 to 18 and 15 people ages 25 to 49 died.
Now that you know more about the flu, you are ready to enter the battlefield. Keep your sword held high and remember to use a flu shot as your shield.