October 7, 1997
GET THE FLU SHOT, NOT THE FLU
SPRINGFIELD, IL -- Dr. John R. Lumpkin, state public health director, today encouraged Illinoisans to get the flu shot, not the flu.
"Most people who get the flu recover completely in one to two weeks, but some people develop serious and potentially life-threatening medical complications, such as pneumonia," Dr. Lumpkin said. "Tragically, many serious cases of flu and even deaths could be prevented through annual immunizations."
While the flu itself is not usually fatal, some people, particularly the elderly and those who have a chronic illness, can develop life-threatening complications. Last year, influenza and pneumonia was the fifth leading cause of death in Illinois to persons 65 years of age or older (3,506).
Influenza, commonly called the flu, is caused by viruses that infect the respiratory tract. Typically the flu includes a fever (usually 100 degrees to 103 degrees in adults and often higher in children) and respiratory symptoms such as cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, as well as headache, muscle aches and often extreme fatigue.
Dr. Lumpkin said viruses that cause the flu are primarily spread from person to person, especially by coughing or sneezing (via airborne droplets of respiratory fluids). Flu viruses can enter the body through the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose or mouth. After a person has been infected with the virus, symptoms usually appear within two to four days. The infection is considered contagious for another three to four days after symptoms appear.
Once a person has the flu, treatment usually consists of resting in bed, drinking plenty of fluids and taking medication to relieve fever and discomfort. Flu complications generally result from bacterial infections in the lower respiratory tract. Symptoms usually appear after the patient starts feeling better. This brief period of improvement is followed by the sudden onset of high fever, shaking chills, chest pain with each breath and coughing that produces thick, yellow- greenish sputum.
The flu season varies, but typically runs from November until April, with peak activity most often between January and March. Flu shots must be given annually, since scientists formulate a new vaccine each year from inactivated influenza viruses to deal with strains in circulation at the time. This year's flu shot protects against the flu viruses expected to circulate in the United States this year: A/Wuhan, A/Bayern and B/Beijing. A strains of flu tend to affect more people because these strains change quickly and people are not able to develop immunity as well as they can to B strains.
October is the optimal time to be vaccinated because it takes about two weeks for immunity to develop and provide protection. The vaccination, however, can be given at any time during the flu season.
The influenza vaccine does not always protect a person from getting flu it is 70 percent to 90 percent effective in preventing influenza among healthy adults but in most instances it reduces the severity of the illness and the risk of serious complications.
The vaccine is specifically recommended for people 65 years of age and older and others at increased risk of influenza complications including
Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities housing anyone of any age with chronic medical conditions;
People with chronic disorders of the lungs or heart, such as asthma, emphysema, chronic bronchitis or cystic fibrosis;
People less able to fight infections because of a disease they are born with; infection with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus); treatment with drugs such as long-term steroids; or treatment for cancer with X-rays or drugs;
People who have required regular medical follow-up or hospitalization during the preceding year because of chronic metabolic diseases (including diabetes mellitus), kidney diseases and blood cell diseases such as sickle cell anemia.
Children and teenagers 6 months to 18 years of age on long-term aspirin treatment, who, if they catch influenza, could develop Reye's syndrome, which causes coma, liver damage and death; and
Women who will be six or more months pregnant or who will have just delivered during the influenza season.
In addition, the following groups should be vaccinated, because, while not at high risk themselves, they may spread the flu to persons who are at high risk:
Health care workers (doctors, nurses, hospital and medical office staff, personnel of nursing homes or chronic care facilities, providers of home health care) who are in contact with people in high-risk groups; and
Household members, including children, who live with persons in high-risk groups for flu.
Dr. Lumpkin also noted that influenza vaccine may be administered to any person who wishes to reduce the likelihood of becoming ill this flu season.
The vaccine is safe and effective. The influenza vaccine that has been licensed in the United States is made from killed influenza viruses, which cannot cause the flu. Less than one- third of those who receive the vaccine have some soreness at the vaccination site and about 10 percent experience mild side effects, such as headache or low-grade fever, for about a day after vaccination. People who are allergic to eggs or who have a fever should check with their physician before receiving the vaccine.
of Public Health
535 West Jefferson Street
Springfield, Illinois 62761
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