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In the News

Don't Let the Flu Bug Bite You!

By Dr. Victor Gong, Medical Director of 75th St. & 126th St. Medical, Ocean Pines Medical & Doctors Weight Control & Wellness centers, Ocean City, MD.

Influenza, year in and year, is a major though often unrecognized cause of illness, and even death in the United States and throughout the world. Each year, 10% to 20% of the American population contracts the virus. Fever, chills, headache, muscle aches sore throat, cough, and malaise occur after an incubation period of 24 to 48 hours, and, usually, resolve gradually in a few days. In epidemic situations, febrile nonpneumonic respiratory illness should be considered to be influenza, although symptoms are by no means specific and many other viruses that target the lungs can cause influenza-like illnesses. Up to half of people with influenza may not present with the classic symptoms, especially in elderly populations. The complications of influenza include not only pneumonia, but also exacerbations of underlying respiratory and cardiac conditions, and even death. Twenty thousand people a year die from flu or its related complications. The elderly account for the vast majority of this number.

The major means of preventing influenza is through the use of inactivated influenza virus vaccine. Annual immunization is recommended in order to compensate for the variant viral stains currently circulating at any one time. Annual immunization is recommended strongly by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices of the U.S. Public Health Service for persons who are at increased risk for complications from influenza and also for persons who may transmit influenza to high-risk persons. Persons at high-risk for contracting a serious case of influenza or its complications include:

  • Everyone 65 years of age or older
  • Residents of nursing homes or other long-term care facilities that house people with chronic medical conditions
  • Adults and children who have long-term health problems such as heart disease, lung disease, asthma, kidney disease, metabolic disease, i.e. diabetes, and anemia and other blood disorders
  • Anyone whose immune system is weakened because of HIV/AIDS or other immune system disorder, long-term treatment with steroids, or cancer treatment with drugs or irradiation
  • Children who are receiving long-term aspirin therapy and who may develop Reye's syndrome, a rare but well-documented complication of influenza that may lead to coma, liver failure and death
  • Women who will be pass their 3rd month of pregnancy during the flu season or pregnant women with medical problems that increase their risk of complications during influenza season
  • Physicians, nurses, and other health care workers in close contact with people at high risk
  • Household members of persons in high-risk groups
  • Travelers to areas where outbreaks of influenza may be sporadic
  • Students and staff at schools and colleges

Immunization with the flu vaccine is well tolerated, most adverse reactions being minor and of less than 2 days' duration, mainly consisting of local inflammation at the site of injection and systemic complaints such as fever, muscle aches and malaise. Children between 6 months and 9 years of age may require two shots, given one month apart. The vaccine contains only inactivated, noninfectious viruses and, as such, cannot cause influenza and is safe for use in immunocompromised persons. People who have a history of severe egg allergy or anaphylactic hypersensitivity to other vaccine components may experience an immediate allergic reaction and may not be candidates for the shot.

In our region, the height of the flu season is between December and March; therefore, the optimal time to administer the vaccine is between October and December. Within two weeks, the vaccine is capable of stimulating the production of enough antibodies to afford adequate protection... until next year. So don't let the flu bug bite you! Fight back by getting immunized.

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