Fighting flu: Vaccine important tool in arsenal
Most people take their physician’s advice and get immunized each year against influenza. However, immunization is not your only defense against the illness, and even if you have been vaccinated, you can still get the flu.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, it takes about two weeks after you receive your immunization to build up the antibodies in your system that would protect you in the event you are exposed to the flu. But during that two-week window of opportunity, you can still get sick.
The CDC further reports that two other factors govern the flu vaccine’s ability to protect us: “the age and health status of the person getting vaccinated, and the similarity or ‘match’ between the virus strains in the vaccine and those circulating in the community.” However, even if the vaccine is less of a match for the viruses that are circulating in a given year, protection is still possible because of “cross-protection” from antibodies that are made in response to the vaccine. CDC reports indicate that the match has been very good, however, in 18 of the last 22 flu seasons.
If you are unfortunate enough to contract the flu, either before you are vaccinated or during the window of opportunity, it’s important to know what to do. Firstly, if you have concomitant health conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, asthma, or dhronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), it’s even more important to contact your health provider right away. While there is no cure for influenza, there are now anti-viral medications that can help lessen its severity. These drugs are another line of defense that can help you shorten the course of your illness, and prevent some secondary problems associated with the flu, such as pneumonia. The anti-viral medications are most useful when begun early, within a couple of days of the first symptoms, hence the importance of getting in touch with your doctor quickly.
Two anti-viral medications currently available are Tamiflu (oseltamivir), which can be taken in pill or liquid form, and Relenza (zanamivir), which is inhaled. Relenza is not advised for people who already have breathing problems such as asthma or COPD.
Of course, the usual advice —to rest and drink plenty of fluids — applies as well.
If you do get sick, remember that you can transmit the flu to others for five to seven days after you have symptoms, and even from several feet away. Do your best to cover your mouth when you cough, and to stay away from those who might be at particular risk if they caught influenza (those age 65 and older, infants and toddlers, pregnant women, and those with chronic health conditions).
For more information on influenza, visit the CDC website, http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/season/index.htm.
If you need information on flu clinics locally, contact SeniorCare’s Information and Referral Department at 978-281-1750. SeniorCare Inc. (http://www.seniorcareinc.org) is the regional Aging Services Access Point for Cape Ann communities.
Anne Springer is the public relations director of SeniorCare Inc., Cape Ann’s local area agency on aging. To reach SeniorCare, call 978-281-1750.