Utah usually is hard hit during flu season; now is the time for you and your family to get vaccinated.
As a family nurse practitioner, I teach in the School of Nursing at Weber State University and practice in a pediatric clinic. One elective for our nursing students is 4090 "The High Risk Family," which focuses on high-risk pediatrics and pregnant mothers. Both groups are at risk for the flu and are encouraged to get a flu shot. However, when it comes to the flu, the high-risk family goes far beyond mother and child.
Those who should get vaccinated include people over 50, those younger than 50 with a chronic disease, pregnant women in the second or third trimester, residents of long-term facilities, anyone with a history of asthma or a chronic disease, children 6 to 24 months or anyone who lives with, or is in frequent contact with, those individuals. In other words, literally every one of us!
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) strongly recommends that everyone older than six months should get a flu vaccine. The only exceptions are those with severe egg allergies who can't get the "egg-free" vaccine.
The seasonal flu vaccine protects against viruses the CDC indicates will be common this year, including H1N1 and Influenza Type A and B. This season an additional Influenza Type B also has been added to the vaccine.
The FDA has approved two different types of vaccines: mist or injection. The mist, squirted up the nose, can be given to anyone who is generally healthy between ages 2 to 49. Because the mist is a weakened live virus, it shouldn't be given to those with weak immune systems (for example, someone receiving chemo) or those who live or work them. The injected vaccine is a dead virus. Both cause the body to produce antibodies, usually within two weeks after vaccination.
Immunization side effects may include runny nose, headache, sore arm/leg, mild low-grade fever and body aches. Symptoms usually last a day or two. You cannot get the flu from the vaccine; however, during the two weeks required to build antibodies, you could contract the flu.
Utah's flu season usually runs from November through March, with an increase in January and February. Influenza is serious and can lead to hospitalization and sometimes death. Every flu season is different, and the disease affects everyone differently. About 30 percent of people who spread the virus have no visible symptoms.
The vaccine is a proactive measure, but does not prevent the flu completely. A few simple precautions include, avoiding people who have flu-like symptoms, wiping down communally items, such as shopping carts, avoiding closed-in areas, teaching your children to cough or sneeze into their sleeves. Stay home from work, school or daycare if you are experiencing even the mildest symptoms, and, of course, wash your hands thoroughly and often.
Young children are at risk because they are small and have immature airways. Flu symptoms are similar to a severe upper-respiratory infection with runny nose, cough, sore throat, fever, tiredness, body or muscle aches, or even diarrhea or vomiting. These symptoms can come on fast. Children are prone to serious side effects such as RSV, bronchitis, pneumonia or ear infections, and should be monitored closely. Antibiotics won't help, but, if diagnosed within 48 hours, the antiviral medication, Tamiflu, can be prescribed to those exposed.
Nurses from the WSU School of Nursing, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary, will play an important role in the flu season. All students in the bachelor of science in nursing program are registered nurses; most work in hospitals or clinics. Associate degree in nursing students also work in various health-care areas.
All these nurses get their flu shots. Also they help administer the flu vaccine, while educating the community to its importance. And nurses care for those who do contract the flu.
I, for one, am always glad when the flu season is over; it can be a stressful time for parents and kids who seem to be sick all winter. Prevention is the key, but it's difficult when life demands we go out among those "viral bugs." So good luck; use wipes, wash your hands, cover your mouth when coughing. Teach your kids important prevention steps, and, of course, get your flu shot!
Suzanne Ballingham-Tebbs, is a WSU School of Nursing professor, MSN, APRN, FNP-C.