Diseases such as flu and pneumonia can affect the ability to breathe, making us pay attention to something most people take for granted: breathing.
Seasonal flu is a contagious respiratory infection caused by different flu viruses. Most flu occurs from October through January, but flu season varies from year to year. You shouldn't wait too late to get a vaccination.
We all know the common symptoms of the flu: fever, headache, aches and pains, weakness and sore throat. The flu can be a very serious condition, especially if you have an underlying chronic health problem such as diabetes, lung disease or renal disease, or suffer from congestive heart failure.
Individuals who have chronic lung disease, or COPD, are particularly at risk if they contract the flu. COPD might include chronic bronchitis, emphysema or both. COPD affects more than 12 million U.S. adults. The flu might lead to serious complications such as dehydration, pneumonia and worsening of these chronic conditions. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that up to 49,000 people die each year from flu or flu-related complications in the United States.
This is also the time of year when cases of reported pneumonia increase, and the increase is thought to be caused in part by flu. There is a vaccination for pneumonia recommended for anyone older than 50 and at risk due to chronic disease.
Hand hygiene is the best way to prevent the spread of flu. If a sink is not available to wash hands, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer is sufficient for hand hygiene.
Essentially anyone 6 months or older should get the flu vaccine. It is especially important for women who are pregnant during flu season, children younger than 5, children on chronic aspirin therapy, people 50 or older, people who are morbidly obese, people with chronic diseases, and people in nursing homes.
To avoid flu altogether, the only choice is to get vaccinated. Most insurance companies cover the vaccine. These vaccines are available at all major pharmacy outlets and physicians' offices. Most physician offices do not require an appointment to get the vaccination. The few seconds of discomfort related to the injection can protect you from flu and pneumonia.
Curt Hohenecker is manager of the respiratory care department at Baptist Health Lexington.