Flu Season

6 Myths about Flu Shots

Many people refuse to get a flu shot because they believe one or more misconceptions floating around on the Internet. Don’t let any of these myths keep you from getting a flu shot!

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1. Flu shots don’t work.
While it is true that flu shots do not keep everyone from getting the flu, effectiveness of the vaccine is rated by the CDC at about 60%. The flu is caused by several different viruses, and it is not possible to produce vaccines for all of them. Further, flu viruses mutate or change often and rapidly, compounding the difficulty. Finally, the vaccine becomes effective 2-3 weeks after the flu shot is administered, and some people catch the flu before then.

One other point to remember is that the primary goal of the flu vaccination program is to prevent an epidemic or pandemic, not to prevent every case of the flu. After all, we do not want to repeat the pandemic of 1918 when approximately 500 million people were affected worldwide resulting in deaths of 20-40 million in one year—the greatest natural disaster in world history. Further, even a modest reduction in flu cases helps to lessen the number of deaths among the elderly, chronically ill, and children. Even if you get the flu, perhaps from a different strain of the virus, you will probably endure less severe symptoms after having the shot.

2. Pregnant women should not get a flu shot.
Some have claimed that flu shots cause miscarriages or other health problems for pregnant women. No scientifically valid study supports that claim. In fact, the flu vaccine can protect both the mother and the fetus—a very important point, since children under 6 months should not receive the vaccine after they are born.

3. I should wait until later in the season to get a flu shot.
Many people put off getting a flu shot because they want the vaccine to last for the entire flu season. Research shows, however, that the vaccine is effective up to a year later which is plenty of coverage for a flu season that lasts from fall until May. No one can predict when outbreaks of the flu will begin. That is why medical authorities recommend getting a flu shot as early as mid-September.

4. I don’t need to get a flu shot every year.
Unlike many other vaccines, the one for influenza is changed every year to counter different or mutated strains of the virus. What worked effectively one year might not work as well the next. Scientists are working on developing synthetic vaccines that could be developed into a universal flu vaccine that would protect against all or most strains and could be administered by means of one dose for life. Until they succeed, however, we will need to get a flu shot every year.

5. People who are allergic to eggs should not get a flu shot.
Although the most widely used flu vaccines are manufactured by a process that uses chicken eggs, the amount of material derived from eggs is miniscule. Therefore, the CDC recommends that the vaccine is generally safe for those who exhibit allergic reactions to eggs. Such persons who are allergic to eggs should consult with their health provider before receiving the vaccine.

In addition, processes, such as cell-based and recombinant technology, that do not use chicken eggs at all have been developed and approved. These forms of the flu vaccine have been approved for use under the name Flublok® and can be administered to adults 18 years of age and older.

6. A flu shot can give you the flu.
No, a flu shot cannot give you the flu. That’s because all forms of the vaccine contain inactive forms of the flu virus.

Because the vaccine is not fully effective for 2-3 weeks, however, some people might get the flu shortly after receiving the shot. That experience probably reinforces this particular myth.

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Bottom line: Get a flu shot this year!

For more information about flu shots, check out my previous post, Get Your Flu Shot Now! If you have questions, call us at Kathy’s Urgent Care.

Authored by Dr. Tom Brown.

The Flu Is Scary This Year!

You probably know someone—a family member, co-worker, or close friend—who has had the flu this year. If so, the chance that you will get the flu is very high. Halfway through the flu season, the CDC projects no end in sight.

Compared to the flu epidemic of 2014-15 when over 710,000 persons were hospitalized and over 56,000 people died in the U.S., hospitalizations are up.

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Figure 1. Source CDC

This year’s numbers are alarming because they represent the most serious cases, chiefly among children and the elderly. They also foretell a higher risk of secondary infections that can prove lethal. Visits to urgent care centers and other outpatient clinics have also skyrocketed.

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Figure 2. Source: CDC

Get a Flu Shot

The number one recommendation of authorities is for everyone (including children over 6 months of age) to get a flu shot. Several news outlets have reported that this year’s flu shot is not very effective against the H3N2 virus that is responsible for about 80% of cases. But even if an H3N2 infection is not prevented, the vaccine can still lessen symptoms and help prevent secondary bacterial infections.

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For more detailed information about flu shots, check out our previous blog post, 6 Myths about Flu Shots. Also check with your health care provider for answers to any questions or concerns you might have.

Know What Symptoms to Look For

If a person exhibits difficulty in breathing, a persistent high fever, dizziness or confusion, severe fatigue, or rapid heartbeat, seek medical attention. See a health care provider if an adult or child appears to get better and suddenly takes a turn for the worse since this can indicate a secondary infection.

Last week a patient walked into our clinic and asked if we were out of the rapid flu test. We replied, “Yes we are, but we don’t always use the flu test to determine if a patient has the flu.” This test—the “rapid influenza diagnostic test” (RIDT)—is more accurate in detecting flu in children than in adults. But as the CDC points out, it can produce either false negatives (indicating no flu when a patient is actually infected) or false positives (indicating flu infection when there is actually none). Such inaccurate results depend on the strain of flu and the severity of the flu outbreak. According to the CDC again, “Most people with flu symptoms do not require testing because the test results usually do not change how you are treated.” Bear in mind that health care providers see a lot of cases and are, therefore, very good at diagnosing the flu. That is why they often prefer relying on their own judgment.

Symptoms of the flu and the common cold can also be confused. For more information about the difference between them and about the flu in general, see our previous post, Cold or Flu: How Can I Tell the Difference?

Get Treatment for the Flu Quickly

Health providers usually administer anti-viral medications to patients diagnosed with the flu. The most common medications include

·      Oseltamivir (Tamiflu™), an oral medication

·      Zanamivir (Relenza™), an oral medication

·      Peramivir (Rapivab™), an injectable medication


These medications are not cures, but they can reduce duration and severity of symptoms. They are most effective if administered within 48-72 hours of the onset of flu symptoms.

If you are in doubt about whether you or a family member has the flu, get checked out quickly.

Don’t Mess Around!

So far, at least 53 children in the U.S. have died, and flu mortality rates for all age groups are climbing. The flu is a serious threat this year.

·      If you or your family members have not yet received a flu shot, get one! The sooner, the better since it takes a couple of weeks for the vaccine to become fully effective.

·      If you suspect that someone has symptoms of the flu, get them checked by a health care professional within a day or two.

·      Urge others to get flu shots in order to limit spreading the flu. This is a public health matter.

·      Be cautious in public places, and wash your hands often.

·      Stay informed.

If you have any concerns about the flu for yourself or a family member, come to Kathy’s Urgent Care so that we can help you. We’re open weekdays from 8am to 8pm and on weekends from 8am to 5pm.

Cold or Flu: How Can I Tell the Difference?

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Got the sniffles? Sore throat? Body aches and pains? Fever? You might be suffering from a cold or the flu. But how can you tell the difference, and what can you do about either one? Winter brings greater exposure to cold and flu viruses and, therefore, greater risk of infection. It’s important to know the difference and how you and your family can cope.

Cold vs. Flu

It is often difficult to tell whether you or others have a cold or the flu. As the following chart shows, however, differences in symptoms are often apparent.

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Treatment

Colds

Usually over-the-counter (OTC) or home remedies can relieve symptoms of colds. There are a wide variety of OTC medications to ease nasal congestion, coughs, and mild fever. But with all OTC medications, be sure to observe label directions and dosage limitations. Do not exceed dosage limitations for acetaminophen (over 59,000 persons were treated for overdosing last year). And do not give aspirin to children or teenagers, since doing so following a viral infection can result in Reye’s syndrome.

Sometimes gargling with salt water relieves a sore throat. A sinus rinse or irrigation can relieve sinus congestion and discomfort. (NeilMed® offers several OTC sinus rinse products (such as neti pots) that can help relieve symptoms for colds and allergies.)

Other home remedies include chicken soup which can have anti-inflammatory ingredients and can help relieve nasal congestion. Honey, sometimes with lemon, when consumed in tea or alone, can relieve coughing.

Above all, rest and drink fluids.

Flu

Many of the same OTC or home remedies that relieve cold symptoms can help also with flu symptoms.

Since the flu and possible complications are more serious, medical attention is frequently required. To relieve symptoms, physicians sometimes prescribe an antiviral drug:

·      Oseltamivir (Tamiflu™), an oral medication

·      Zanamivir (Relenza™), an oral medication

·      Peramivir (Rapivab™), an injectable medication

These medications are not cures, but they can reduce duration of symptoms. They are most effective if administered within 48-72 hours of the onset of flu symptoms.

If you are pregnant, are over 50 years old, have a compromised immune system, or have a chronic disorder such as diabetes, you should seek medical attention if you get the flu. Because of the risk of complications such as bronchitis or pneumonia, you should see a clinical provider within 48 hours of the beginning of symptoms.

Prevention

Colds

It is almost impossible to keep from catching a cold. The rhinovirus can be transmitted by airborne droplets from infected persons who sneeze or cough. It can also be transmitted by direct contact with an infected person or surfaces that such a person has touched. Basic hygiene, such a frequent washing of hands, and avoiding contact with infected persons or surfaces (such as doorknobs, countertops, railings) are the best preventative measures. In addition, try to avoid touching your own eyes, face, nose, or mouth if you encounter others who have a cold or you are in a public place.

Flu

To reduce the chances of getting the flu, use the same measures above that help to prevent catching a cold. Also, you should know that a cold cannot morph into the flu because colds and the flu are caused by two very different viruses.

Very important: The most effective way to prevent getting the flu is to get a flu shot every year. While experts recommend getting a flu shot by the end of every October, you can still get a flu shot in the late fall or early winter. Peak effectiveness begins 2-3 weeks after you receive your shot. For more information about flu shots, see our recent blog, Get Your Flu Shot Now!

If you or your family have questions about symptoms and whether you have the flu, come to Kathy’s Urgent Care so that we can resolve your concerns. If you do have the flu, we can help you feel better and avoid complications, especially if you visit us within 48-72 hours of the onset of symptoms.