The Flu Season Is Approaching
Be prepared and get vaccinated
By Nicole Davis, M.D., Chestnut Hill Hospital
Leaves are changing and a chill is in the air – not to mention coughs, runny noses and sneezes. Fall is here, and with it comes the advent of flu season, which means it’s time to get your annual flu immunization.
Influenza (the flu) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness. Serious cases can result in hospitalization or death.
The best way to avoid getting the flu is to have an annual flu vaccination, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Flu vaccines are offered in many locations, including doctor’s offices, clinics, health departments, pharmacies and college health centers, as well as by many employers, and even in some schools.
Health experts recommend that adults and children receive a flu vaccine well ahead of the flu season. Seasonal flu activity can begin as early as October and generally peaks in the U.S. in January or February, but can continue to occur as late as May.
Just like other vaccinations, the flu vaccine is made from a killed virus. When this virus is injected (flu shot) or inhaled (nasal-spray flu vaccine), your body’s immune system recognizes that a foreign substance is present. It then makes antibodies, which are proteins that attach to the virus. These antibodies signal the immune system to attack and destroy the virus. The process of antibody generation takes about two weeks. Afterwards, if a live virus enters your body, the immune system can respond and destroy it. Since the flu virus changes every year, last year’s antibodies won’t protect you from this year’s flu. That’s why an annual flu vaccine is necessary.
This season’s flu vaccine is designed to protect against the influenza viruses that research indicates will be most common. Traditional flu vaccines (called “trivalent” vaccines) are made to protect against three flu viruses: influenza A (H1N1) virus; influenza A (H3N2) virus; and influenza B virus. In addition, this season, there are flu vaccines developed to protect against four flu viruses (called “quadrivalent” vaccines). These vaccines protect against the same viruses as the trivalent vaccine, as well as an additional B virus.
Who should get vaccinated?
Everyone who is at least 6 months of age should get a flu vaccine this season, according to the CDC. It’s especially important for some people to get vaccinated, including:
- people who are at high risk of developing serious complications (like pneumonia) if they get sick with the flu
- people who have certain medical conditions including asthma, diabetes, and chronic lung disease
- pregnant women
- children younger than 5 years of age (and especially those younger than 2)
- people 65 years of age and older
- people who live with or care for others who are at high risk of developing serious complications, including household contacts and caregivers of infants less than 6 months old and healthcare personnel
Who Should Not Be Vaccinated?
Some people should not get a flu vaccine without first consulting their doctor. These include:
- people who have had a severe reaction to a flu vaccination
- children younger than 6 months of age
- people who have a moderate-to-severe illness, with or without a fever (they should wait until they recover to get vaccinated.)
In addition, anyone who has ever had a severe allergic reaction to eggs or has had a severe allergy to any part of this vaccine should talk with their doctor before having the vaccination. The egg allergy contraindication has been modified this year, ask your doctor for more details.
The flu vaccine is not guaranteed to prevent the flu, but minimizes your chances of contracting the flu virus and, if you do get the flu, the vaccine helps to minimize the symptoms.
To learn more, visit CHESTNUTHILLHEALTH.COM and click on the Health Resources tab, then type “Flu” into the search box to take test your knowledge about the flu, or search our article library to learn simple ways to protect yourself and your family from the flu this season.
About the Author: As a family practitioner, Dr. Davis, cares for newborns through adults at her practice in Wyncote. She is a native of Mt. Airy and is happy to be practicing and serving her community. Dr. Davis is accepting new patients.
Chestnut Hill Hospital (CHH) is a community-based, university-affiliated, teaching hospital committed to excellent patient-centered care. CHH provides a full range of inpatient and outpatient, diagnostic and treatment services for our neighbors in northwest Philadelphia and eastern Montgomery County. More than 300 board-certified physicians comprise the medical staff and support medical specialties including minimally invasive laparoscopic and robotic surgery, cardiology, gynecology, oncology, orthopedics, urology, family practice and internal medicine. Our comprehensive services include primary care practices, two women’s centers and an off-site physical therapy center. CHH is affiliated with university-hospitals in Philadelphia for heart, stroke and cancer care, as well as our hospitalist and residency programs. Chestnut Hill has 132-beds and is accredited by the Joint Commission. To learn more about CHH, visit chestnuthillhealth.com.