[This piece was written by Diane Tenenbaum, MD, of St. Peter’s Children’s Health Center.]
About 675,000 Americans died during the flu pandemic of 1918 – a toll 10 times greater than World War I. It’s unlikely such a deadly flu attack will occur again, and one reason is that Americans – and their public health officials – fear the flu enough to take proper preventive action.
Influenza, commonly known as the flu, is a respiratory infection caused by one of several viruses. Some tell-tale signs of the flu are:
- Sudden onset of illness;
- A fever over 101 degrees that lasts three to four days;
- Tiredness/weakness that can last from two to three weeks;
- Muscle aches and pains; and
- Chest discomfort
Influenza kills about 36,000 Americans each year, mostly the elderly. Influenza can lead to pneumonia and can be dangerous for people with heart or breathing conditions (like emphysema or asthma). The flu can cause high fever and seizures in children.
Hygiene is key to fighting the flu – you should wash your hands frequently, and be sure to cover your coughs and sneezes. And the best prevention against the flu is to get vaccinated.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends vaccination for everyone six months of age and older. Points to remember:
- Vaccines are safer and more effective today than ever before.
- Vaccines don’t weaken the immune system as you might read on the Internet. Vaccines actually boost the immune system.
- The flu IS NOT CAUSED by the vaccine.
- It takes about two weeks for full protection to develop. Getting vaccinated NOW before the flu season ramps up is critical.
There is a small group of people who should not receive a flu vaccine because of severe allergies or certain pre-existing conditions. Ask your doctor if there is any reason that you should NOT receive a flu shot.
It is important to note scientists put a great deal of energy every year into studying which strains will be most prominent. Though there are times where not every vaccine strain is a perfect match with the most prevalent strain in our region, it will nonetheless confer some degree of protection — and certainly, some protection beats none!