Reprinted courtesy of KC Nursing News
Each year from November to April, millions of people are impacted by the flu, and currently Kansas City is seeing an all-time high of reported flu cases, mostly Influenza A. Medical experts, including Darryl K. Nelson, MD, HCA Midwest Health System chief medical officer, and Denise K. Miller, MD, chief medical officer of Menorah Medical Center, agree that while the flu — which usually enters the body through the mouth or nose — can be dangerous, it can usually be prevented with a simple flu vaccine.
And it’s not too late to get that shot.
“One of the most effective ways to stop at least 75 percent of those infections is through a flu shot — it decreases the chance of hospitalization by 60 percent and death from the contagious virus by 80 percent,” says Dr. Nelson. “The flu virus can become airborne if an infected individual coughs or sneezes, which tends to spread the flu rapidly to people in close proximity.
Flu symptoms can be mistaken for a cold, but the onset is typically more sudden and includes symptoms such as severe muscle aches, chills and fever, extreme fatigue, sore throat, headache and cough.
“We are seeing patients getting ill that have been vaccinated,” says Dr. Miller. “The vaccine is not 100 percent, but most medical professionals believe it shortens the illness if you do get ill despite being vaccinated. Secondary complications such as pneumonia are lessened if vaccinated.”
Dr. Miller urges people to exercise common sense when the flu hits. “Mild flu symptoms can quickly escalate and become severe. This is one time you don’t want to share with others,” she says. “People with the flu should take precautions to protect themselves, their families, co-workers and others by avoiding close contact and staying home from work or school until fever-free for at least 24 hours. This helps to stop the virus from spreading.”
Both Dr. Nelson and Dr. Miller stress the importance of contacting a healthcare provider or being seen as soon as symptoms such as fever, aches and cough start to get on treatment to limit duration and severity.
The CDC has recently revised guidelines for flu shots. “The flu vaccine is recommended for children 6 months and older, and especially for those in high-risk groups including adults age 65 and older, pregnant women and people with certain chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease and asthma,” says Dr. Nelson. “People with compromised immune systems due to cancer and HIV or AIDS also are considered atrisk and should consider a flu shot. People who have experienced an allergic reaction to a previous flu vaccine should not receive a shot. If someone is acutely ill with a fever, they should wait until they are recovered.”
In addition, Dr. Nelson notes that people with severe egg allergies or Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a rare neurologic condition, should not have a flu shot. “It’s always sensible to consult with your physician if you have health concerns before getting a flu shot,” he says. “Although it’s ideal to get a flu vaccine prior to the season starting, you can continue to receive a shot throughout the season.”
“Side effects from the vaccine are usually minimal,” says Dr. Miller. “Nearly 15 percent of patients receiving the vaccine report a soreness or redness at the shot site, and serious reactions are one in a million. In addition to the shot, there is a nasal spray vaccine for select patients.”
Flu season typically begins in November and runs through March. One shot protects against different strains that the CDC has predicted to be most active. In addition to the vaccine, Dr. Miller urges people to be vigilant in good hand hygiene and in covering their nose and mouth when sneezing. “Get plenty of rest, drink fluids and practice good nutrition, too,” she says. “This will increase your protection during the flu season, and also against other cold viruses typical during the fall and winter months.”
HCA Midwest Health System is Kansas City’s largest healthcare provider and private sector employer. Menorah Medical Center is part of HCA Midwest Health System.