Eric Murray: Prepare yourself for flu season |

Eric Murray: Prepare yourself for flu season

Eric Murray / Grand HealthGrand County, CO Colorado

The first case of the flu in your office occurred last December, just before Christmas. From then, infections and absences increased rapidly until the end of February, then started to drop off. That’s the usual pattern, and it’s important to prepare yourself now.Influenza, commonly known as the flu, is highly contagious, and you’re probably well aware of the symptoms: coughing, sneezing, fever, chills, sore throat, headache, muscle aches and fatigue. While a very bad cold may have some of the same symptoms, the flu is more likely to include a fever and wipe you out for at least several days.The vaccine for the 2011-2012 flu season was shipped in mid-August, and the ads have probably already reached your inbox. Shots are available in doctors’ offices, supermarkets, shopping malls, drug stores and many workplaces. Who should get a flu shot? Everyone six months of age and older. That’s the recommendation this year, as it was last year. The thinking is that everyone benefits from greater herd immunity.Those most likely to be exposed to the flu virus are school children, young working adults and health care workers as well as parents and others who come in close contact with persons who are exposed. Most of these individuals have strong immune systems that protect them from the flu and its more serious complications.Those at high risk of complications, many of which can be life threatening, are: adults 65 years of age and over, children younger than 5 (and particularly those younger than 2), pregnant women and persons with chronic medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, blood disorders, HIV or AIDS.In the past, these high-risk persons were targeted and given priority for shots. But studies have shown that such a strategy was not effective in lowering the number of hospitalizations for influenza-related illness. The current theory is that these high-risk individuals benefit most when children, healthy young adults and others most likely to spread the infection are immunized.The makeup of these vaccines was based on recommendations regarding the three viruses believed to be most likely to circulate during the coming flu season. Although the three selected this year were the same strains selected for the Northern Hemisphere last year, that doesn’t mean that last year’s shot will protect you. Immunity declines over time and cannot be expected to last more than a year.There are some who should not get a flu shot: persons with a severe allergy to chicken eggs; those who have had a severe reaction to flu immunization in the past, and those who developed Guillian-Barre syndrome within six weeks of getting a flu shot in the past.Generally, reactions to the flu shot are rare, not very serious, usually occur rather quickly and last only a day or two.The flu itself is another story. Because it’s viral, it can’t be controlled with antibiotics; yet it frequently leads to bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections and dehydration. Persons with asthma, diabetes and congestive heart failure can suffer serious complications.Influenza and related illnesses account for 1.7 million hospitalizations each year, and it’s a major cause of death in persons age 65 and over and children under age 4.If you’re one of those who think, “I can deal with the flu if it happens to me,” you’ve probably not had the flu recently. Even if you have only the routine symptoms, without complications, the flu can give you a week or two of misery that’s totally unnecessary. A flu shot is so easy and so effective in protecting you and those around you.- Eric Murry, MBA, is chief information officer, Middle Park Medical Center, Kremmling & Granby