You probably caught the flu from fluid droplets in which the flu virus travels. These enter your body through your nose, eyes or mouth after someone coughs or sneezes near you. You even can catch it by touching a surface on which the virus has landed. If you touch the surface and then touch your nose, eyes or mouth, the virus can enter your system. Thus washing your hands frequently and vigorously with soap and warm water offers protection against the flu.
While you might think that your flu is just a bad cold, influenza is a serious illness. Consider these figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
• From the 1976-1977 flu season to the 2006-2007 season, annual flu-associated deaths ranged from about 3,000 to about 49,000 people.
• During the 1990s, according to one study, flu-related deaths in the United States ranged from about 17,000 during the mildest season to 52,000 during the most severe season. That amounts to an average of 36,000 deaths annually during that period.
• In a normal flu season, about 90 percent of deaths occur in people 65 years and older.
An annual flu shot is your best defense against the influenza virus. You need another shot each flu season, as the vaccine is no longer effective after a year.
Each year immunologists who develop flu vaccine identify the three strains of influenza virus most likely to infect the greatest number of people. They often base their decision on the strains from the previous flu season. Even though the vaccine for this flu season is designed to counter the same strains as in 2010-2011, you still need another flu shot.
Protection from the vaccine develops about two weeks after you get the shot and can last up to one year.
In recent years flu vaccine sometimes has been scarce. This year vaccine is plentiful, and the CDC recommends a flu shot for everyone age 6 months and older.
Influenza can lead to serious complications for people with other medical conditions. Those at high risk for complications from the flu include:
• Adults 65 and older
• Pregnant women
• Native Americans and Alaskan natives
• People younger than 19 on long-term aspirin therapy
• People who have asthma; neurological and neurodevelopmental conditions; chronic lung disease; heart disease; disorders of the blood; kidney, liver, metabolism or endocrine system, including diabetes; weakened immune system due to disease or medication (such as people with HIV or AIDS or cancer or those on chronic steroids); or morbid obesity, with a Body Mass Index of 40 or more
Although some retail stores began offering flu shots in September, getting a shot in November, December or even later remains valuable. While scientists do their best, the influenza virus is unpredictable. The flu season changes from one year to the next, peaking in January or February most years and sometimes occurring as late as May.
Many health insurance plans offer flu shots for their members at little or no out-of-pocket cost. You also can find flu shots at a reasonable cost at flu clinics around the area.
To learn more about the flu, visit http://www.cdc.gov/flu/.
Ashlie Teixeira-Smith is an advanced practice nurse (APN) with Northern Nevada Medical Group. She received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nursing at the University of Nevada, Reno Orvis School of Nursing. Teixeira-Smith is accepting new patients, and same-day appointments and walk-ins are welcome. The Northern Nevada Medical Group accepts most of the area’s health plans including Medicare. To schedule an appointment, call 352-5300.