HEALTHY LIVING: Stay healthy, get a flu shot

The single best way to protect yourself against the flu is to get vaccinated each year. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommends that people get their seasonal influenza vaccine as soon as the vaccine becomes available, as it is now in our community.

Vaccination before the end of December is best because this timing ensures that protective antibodies are in place before flu activity is typically at its highest. This year’s vaccine will protect against the three influenza viruses that research indicates will be most common during the flu season, including an influenza A (H1N1) virus and an influenza B virus. One shot does it all – and a nasal form is available for those who hate needles.

Everyone six months and older should get an annual flu vaccine, the CDC recommends. Between 5 and 20 percent of the population catches the flu, on average, every year, according to available statistics. Also, approximately 200,000 people are hospitalized annually in the U.S. with flu-related complications.

Influenza is a serious disease and people should take it seriously. It’s especially important that specific groups get vaccinated either because they are at high risk for flu-related complications or because they live with or care for people at high risk for developing health complications related to influenza. These include: pregnant women; children younger than 5, and especially children younger than 2; people 50 years of age and older; individuals with certain chronic medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes and heart disease; residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities; and individuals who live with or care for those at high risk for flu-related complications, including health care workers and parents of children less than 6 months of age (these children are considered too young to be vaccinated).

Some people should not receive a flu vaccine without first consulting their physician or health care provider. These include individuals who have a severe allergy to chicken eggs, those who have previously experienced a severe reaction to an influenza vaccination, and individuals who have developed Guillain-Barre syndrome after a flu shot. Guillain-Barre syndrome is an autoimmune disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks itself. Exactly what triggers this rare condition is unknown. The syndrome may occur at any age but is most common in men and women between 30 and 50.

In addition to getting vaccinated, other tips for staying healthy during the cold and flu season include proper hand-washing techniques (washing regularly with warm water and soap, and using a hand-sanitizer gel); avoiding contact with sick people whenever possible; enjoying a well-balanced diet; and remaining physically active.

By Dr. Jude Verzosa

Dr. Jude Verzosa practices internal medicine at Enumclaw Medical Center, a part of the Franciscan Medical Group. He is also medical staff president at St. Elizabeth Hospital. Need a doctor? Call the Franciscan Physician Referral Line toll free at 1-888-825-3227.


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