written by Marsha Seidelman, M.D. on Saturday, January 11, 2020
As you can see by the map, the flu season is up and running all across the United States. It’s an unusual season, in that influenza B, which is usually more common later in the season, is starting up strong. It is usually more common in children, but that’s the only one I’ve seen so far in my office in adults.
The high dose flu vaccine that is given to seniors contains antigens from two A varieties and one B, whereas the quadrivalent that most non-seniors get contains two A and two B. Testing so far indicated that this year’s flu vaccine should have good overlap with the circulating viruses. The CDC does not have any preference for which vaccine anyone receives – any age-appropriate one will do. So although seniors are usually given the ‘hi dose’ variety, those who can’t get that one should get another one. It takes two weeks for the vaccine to take full effect in your body, so if you haven’t already done so, get it now!
Influenza most often causes fever, cough, and significant achiness and fatigue – often described as feeling like a truck hit you. The basic illness is bad enough, but the real concern about it, is that complications can ensue, including asthma exacerbations, bronchitis, pneumonia, sinus and ear infections, or worsening congestive heart failure, resulting in hospitalizations and deaths. These complications are more common in those under 2 years old or over 65 years old, pregnant women, those with asthma, heart disease or stroke, kidney or liver disease, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, cancer and children with neurological conditions. Those who live in a nursing home or other long term care facility are also at higher risk.
There are oral medications available for out-patients and are best given within the first 24-48 hours of symptoms. The main objective is to limit the duration of the illness, especially in those with diagnoses listed above who are at higher risk of complications. It can also be given in a different dosage after you’ve been exposed to documented flu, as prophylaxis to lower your chance of becoming ill. Be sure to call your doctor if you fall into these categories.
Each year millions of people become ill with the flu, hundreds of thousands are hospitalized and tens of thousands die from flu-related causes. Everyone over 6 months old should get a flu shot – any shot – unless there’s a personal reason not to. This is for the individual’s protection, and for the community. ‘Herd immunity’, when the vast majority of people are immunized helps to limit spread once the flu reaches a community. Get a shot, any shot.