Public health nurses in Monongalia County Health Department’s Clinical Services program advise people to aim to get vaccinated against influenza by the end of October. Today, obviously, is the last day of October—but it’s still not too late to get your vaccine. It takes about 10 days for the vaccine to become fully effective, and with cold weather setting in and the holidays approaching, it’s a good time to be immunized.
After all, many people gather with extended family at Thanksgiving, a perfect time not only to exchange warm greetings but also germs.
As Dr. Diane K. Gross, MCHD’s regional epidemiologist, recently told a class at West Virginia University’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, the effects of the flu vaccine do not last from year to year. “You may have some antibody protection” from last year’s shot, but the boost generally waxes and then wanes within about six months. Because of the approaching weather and holiday season, as well as that flu usually is winding down by or in April, that makes October the most logical time to get vaccinated.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that flu activity is low right now but is expected to pick up in coming weeks. It is recommended that everyone 6 months and older get the vaccine. Children, older people and those with conditions that compromise their immune system are especially vulnerable to flu and should be inoculated.
Also, pregnant women should vaccinate for two—not only for themselves but also for their babies, who cannot get inoculated during their first six months. And, people 65 years old and older might want to consider the Fluzone high-dose vaccine that offers four times the antigen of the standard dose.
In addition to getting a flu shot, there are other actions to incorporate into your life to help you avoid getting sick. These are commonsense habits that people should practice anyway. Wash your hands often and thoroughly with warm water and soap, for about the length of time that it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice. Keep surfaces in your home and office clean. Avoid people who are sick.
If you do come down with flu, ask your doctor about antivirals, especially if you are elderly or have underlying health conditions that could put you at increased risk of severe disease. Administered quickly enough, they can help lessen the length and severity of a bout with flu.
Also, stay home from work. If you really need to seek medical attention, do so, either to get antivirals or if you develop a secondary infection that could require antibiotics. But otherwise, the cure for flu without complications is generally rest, fluids and time. Antibiotics do not help you recover from flu.
If you haven’t gotten a vaccine yet, there is still time. While we don’t encourage people to put it off, we want to make sure they know that we’ll keep giving them for as long as we have them in. Flu season is unpredictable. Sometimes it’s underway by now; other times, it hasn’t hit yet. It can peak in February or March and last into spring.
So strongly consider scheduling your flu vaccine now. But if you don’t and end up regretting it as flu season progresses, give MCHD Clinical Services a call at 304-598-5119.