Get flu vaccine early

Special to the Herald-LeaderSeptember 9, 2013 

You may have noticed signs advertising flu vaccines now, which seems much earlier than the vaccine has been available before. This may have prompted you to wonder "Is it too early to get a flu shot?"

There are many opinions concerning the best time to take the vaccine, but flu seasons can be very unpredictable. The best advice is that you should take the vaccine when it first becomes available. It can take up to two weeks after receiving the vaccine for your immune system to provide full protection from the influenza virus. The earlier you are vaccinated, the less likely you are to be exposed in that two-week window.

The seasonal influenza virus, commonly known as the flu virus, is spread just like the common cold, but unlike the common cold, influenza frequently causes more severe symptoms. Each year, up to 20 percent of the U.S. population is infected with a strain of the flu virus. Of those infected, more than 200,000 are hospitalized due to complications of the infection. Each year up to 49,000 deaths are attributed directly or indirectly to influenza infections.

Flu symptoms usually appear more rapidly and more severely than the common cold. These symptoms include headache, fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, muscle and body aches and fatigue. Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea are more common in children.

The flu vaccine is recommended for everyone 6 months and older. It is especially encouraged for people who are at increased risk of complications related to the flu such as the very young (those younger than 3), the very old (those older than 65), pregnant women and those with certain diseases (asthma, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and heart disease).

Because influenza is a virus like the common cold, antibiotics are not helpful in the treatment. The severity of flu symptoms can be unpredictable from season to season, but in most cases it is mild and self-limiting for healthy individuals. If you consult primary care within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms antiviral medication may be prescribed that can shorten the course of the illness.

During cold and flu season, use good hand washing hygiene, cover your mouth when you cough and encourage your children to make these behaviors a habit. Plan time in your schedule to get a flu vaccine. Doing these things should significantly reduce your family's risk of illness.

Henry Poston is a nurse practitioner at Baptist Express Care clinic, located at Walmart in Paris.

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