Everything You Need to Know About the Flu

For most people, a bout with the flu will mean a week's worth of fever, headache, coughing, nausea, weakness, and muscle aches. Yet a lot of people decide not to get the flu vaccine. Either they've never had the flu, or felt that the suffering was not enough to justify taking time out of their schedule to get vaccinated.

But the flu can be very serious, and there are plenty of reasons to get a flu shot. On average, 36,000 Americans die each year, and 200,000 are hospitalized due to serious complications from the flu. Even if your body is strong enough to fight off the flu, you could be passing it along to someone's who isn't.

Here is the Centers for Disease Control checklist for whom the vaccination is recommended. In all likelihood, you will probably fall into at least one of these categories:

- All persons, including school-aged children, who want to reduce the risk of becoming ill with influenza or of transmitting influenza to others

- All children 6 months to 4 years

- All persons 50 years old or older

- Children and adolescents receiving long-term aspirin and are therefore at risk for Reye Syndrome

- Women who will be pregnant during the flu season

- Adults and children who have chronic medical conditions involving the lungs, heart, kidneys, liver, blood, or endocrine systems

- Adults and children who have weakened immune systems

- Residents of nursing homes and other chronic-care facilities

- Health-care personnel

- Anyone who lives in a household with a child 5 or under or an adult 50 or older

- Anyone who lives with a someone who falls into any of the above categories

Getting the Vaccine
The flu typically peaks in January or later. It takes two to four weeks for the body to build up immunity to the flu after the vaccine, which is why patients are encouraged to get the vaccine as soon as it is available. There are currently two types of flu vaccines.

1.The inactivated vaccine is the one that most people will get. It is the injectable form and is recommended for all persons 6 months or older. Because it is an inactivated vaccine, it is impossible for you to catch the flu from the vaccine. If you come down with the cold or flu within days after receiving the vaccine, it is likely because you were exposed to another bacteria or virus while you were in the doctor’s office. The efficacy rates of this vaccine range from 50 percent to 90 percent, depending on the match between the circulating strain of flu in your area and the specific strains of the flu that the vaccine was formulated to include.

2. A live attenuated vaccine has been developed that can be administered with a spray up the nostril. Because this vaccine does contain live virus, there is some risk of contracting a mild case of the flu from it. For this reason, this method of vaccination is currently only recommended for healthy individuals between the ages of 5 and 49.

Preventing and Treating the Flu
Of course, the best way to prevent the flu is to get vaccinated and to avoid exposure to those who are already infected (easier said than done).

If you have the flu, you can have your doctor perform a test to confirm that you have been infected. If the test is positive and you are diagnosed within two days of onset of symptoms, there are two medications that are currently recommended for treating the flu: oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza). If administered correctly, these medicines have been shown to shorten the duration of illness by one day.

Fortunately, they may be much better at preventing the disease. If taken daily during the flu season, these medications can be 60 percent to 89 percent effective in preventing influenza. You might consider having these medications on hand if you decide not to get the vaccine. You may also decide to take them prophylactically if someone in your immediate environment has the flu and you want to decrease your chances of catching it. You can take these medications even if you had the flu vaccine.

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