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Prepare To Stay Healthy During the Flu Season

(October 21, 2015 - Carroll Township, Pa.)

Carol is a third grade teacher. Last year, when she left her classroom on the Wednesday afternoon before Thanksgiving, she had a "to do" list 8 inches long. That evening, she had to shop for groceries, clean the house and bake two pies before welcoming her relatives for a traditional turkey dinner the next day. She never got around to participating in any of the holiday festivities. In fact, Thanksgiving 2014 is simply a blur to that mother of two because she spent the entire holiday in bed with a fever, chills, sore throat, body aches, nausea and vomiting. She had the flu, and before she collapsed in her bed that November evening, she successfully passed the virus along to her teenage son and daughter. The holiday could have been spared for that family, if Carol had just rolled up her sleeve and gotten the flu vaccine from her primary care physician or at the neighborhood walk-in urgent care clinic.

"Influenza is preventable," said David Weber, M.D. director of Infectious Diseases at Monongahela Valley Hospital. "We encourage everyone six months of age and older to get the flu vaccine. It is important to get the vaccine every year because the viruses change from each flu season to the next."

What is the Flu?
Influenza is a highly contagious illness. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people with the flu can spread it to others up to 6 feet away. It is mainly spread by droplets produced when people with the illness cough, sneeze or even talk. The droplets can pass through the air or they may rest on a surface or object and infect healthy people when they breathe them into their lungs or touch germ-filled surfaces.

When is the Flu Contagious?
"It is simply impossible to avoid situations where we can be exposed to the virus during flu season since people can spread the virus before symptoms appear," Dr. Weber cautioned.

The flu can be passed from person to person before infected people even know that they are sick. Symptoms begin one to four days after the virus enters the body. People with the flu can infect others beginning one day before their symptoms develop and up to five or seven days after becoming ill.

What are the Symptoms and Complications?
People with the flu often experience some or all of the symptoms below:

  • Fever or feeling feverish with chills (although not everyone with the flu has a fever)
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Fatigue
  • Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.

Most healthy adults who get the flu recover in less than two weeks. Serious life-threatening complications can occasionally occur in the young and healthy adults. However, people ages 65 and older or those with chronic medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes and heart disease and pregnant women or young children are considered high risk and can experience serious complications. Some of the complications can be life threatening and result in death.

The Importance of the Vaccine
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the flu vaccine can reduce the chances of getting the flu by 70 to 90 percent. Approximately two weeks after the vaccine is given, antibodies are produced in the body. These antibodies protect against infection with the viruses that are in the vaccine.

"The flu vaccine is the best defense people have against the virus," said Dr. Weber. "It can keep people from getting the virus and reduce the risk of serious complications. Now is the time to get the vaccine so that there is enough time for the antibodies to build up before the flu season arrives in full force."

The flu vaccine is available now in most primary care physician and internal medicine physician offices as well as from walk-in, urgent care centers. Many health plans cover the cost of the vaccine.

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