Vaccination Remains The Best Protection Against The Flu

December 5, 2014

ATLANTA - Getting a flu vaccination is the first and most important step in protecting against flu and its potentially serious complications. National Influenza Vaccination Week is Dec. 7-13 and if you haven’t gotten a flu shot yet, now is a good time to do so.

This flu season is likely to be a tough one for two reasons.  First, more than 90 percent of the influenza specimens tested nationwide are Influenza A H3N2 (H3N2), and the rates of hospitalization and deaths are typically higher in seasons when H3N2 is the dominant strain. Second, about half of the H3N2 viruses found so far this flu season don’t match the vaccine produced for the 2014-2015 season. The virus has mutated, or changed slightly, since the vaccine was formulated early this year.

While the flu can vary from season to season, the fact remains the single most effective way to prevent the flu is the flu vaccine.

“Every healthy individual over the age of 6 months should get a flu vaccine,” said Brenda Fitzgerald, M.D., commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health. “It is especially important for the elderly and very young to get a flu shot. And, when given to women during pregnancy, the vaccine has shown to protect both the mother and her baby up to 6 months old from flu.”  

The Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) urges Georgians to be especially vigilant and take extra precautions with flu that appears in long-term care facilities, schools and daycares. H3N2 can be especially serious for children younger than 2; adults 65 and older; people with asthma, diabetes, heart disease, or weakened immune systems; pregnant women; and people who are "morbidly obese."

Antiviral medications such as Tamiflu® or Relenza® are an important second line of defense against the flu. Treatment with antiviral drugs is especially important for people at high risk of serious flu complications or people who are very sick with flu. Antiviral drugs work best when started within two days of coming down with the flu, so it is important to call your doctor as soon as the first symptoms appear.

Antiviral drugs, given early, can shorten the length of time you are sick and lessen symptoms, especially with H3N2.  The drugs also help prevent serious flu complications, like pneumonia, that can lead to hospitalization or death.

Symptoms of the flu include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, headache, chills and fatigue. One of the most pronounced flu symptoms is an overall feeling of achiness and malaise that comes on quickly.

Seasonal flu activity in Georgia is increasing week by week. The Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) already has lab confirmation of five flu-related deaths in the state. Flu season typically peaks around the end of January or first of February, but can run into late April, so it’s not too late to get a flu shot.

There are other things you can do to help protect against the flu, including:

·         Frequent and thorough hand washing. Alcohol based gels are the next best thing if there is no access to soap and water.

·         Covering your nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing to help prevent the spread of the flu. Use a tissue or cough or sneeze into the crook of your elbow or arm.

·         Avoid touching your face as flu germs can get into the body through mucus membranes of the nose, mouth and eyes.

·         If you are sick, stay home from school or work. Flu sufferers should be free of a fever without the use of a fever reducer for at least 24 hours before returning to work or school.

·         See a doctor to get a prescription for antiviral drugs, if it is deemed appropriate. Remember antiviral drugs are most effective within one or two days of symptoms appearing.

Take preventive measures now to protect yourself and your family from the flu, and encourage others to get a flu vaccine, too. Make time to get a flu shot during National Influenza Vaccination Week Dec. 7-13, and help spread the gift of health this holiday season and on into 2015.

For more information about the flu and how to prevent it, log onto http://www.flu.gov/ or visit http://dph.georgia.gov/seasonal-flu-influenza.