Get the flu vaccine now before the season hits | Health

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Get the flu vaccine now before the season hits
Health

Family physicians are strong proponents of immunizations 

With the true flu season rearing its ugly head in the winter months – December, January and February – the time to get the flu shot is now, say family physicians. It’s takes a full month to build up antibodies after you’ve received the vaccine and once exposed, the chances are that you’ll get it if you’ve waited to be inoculated.

“We’re very enthusiastic about endorsing vaccines because they’re safer, cheaper, easier and more effective,” said Dr. Terry Hashey, DO, MHSE, FAAFP, Family Physician Medical Director of First Coast Family Medicine in Jacksonville, FL. “You’re contagious a day before your symptoms and five to seven days after your symptoms end.”

About 20 percent of the people who actually catch the flu don’t have any symptoms but they spread it as carriers of the disease including teachers, nurses and daycare workers, says Dr. Hashey. “I absolutely take it every year and in our office, this is the first year that we’re mandating the shot. We went from 75 percent of our staff to 100 percent vaccinated.”

Dr. Hashey talks about two important ideas that make taking the flu vaccine crucial to keeping people healthy and going about their every day lives. The first is the herd immunity. This is a form of immunity that occurs when a significant portion of the population (or herd) is vaccinated against a contagious disease, providing a measure of protection for those who haven’t developed immunity. The next is creating a “cocoon effect” or a cocoon of protection around infants by vaccinating everyone who comes in contact with the baby.

“In my practice, people are enthusiastic about getting their flu shot. What you need to know is that you can’t get the flu from the shot. You might experience a little soreness at the vaccination site but you won’t actually become infected. The vaccine works by taking the shape of the virus so that your body rapidly produces antibodies and protects you from the flu,” Dr. Hashey said.

This year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone six months of age and older should receive the vaccine. And, that everyone is vaccinated every year because a person’s immunity from flu vaccination declines over time. One dose of vaccine is recommended for most people but children who have never been vaccinated against flu require two doses for full protection.

“I’m a big proponent of the flu vaccine because every year people die from the flu and many are elderly or frail,” said Dr. Cyneetha Strong, a family physician with Patient’s First in Tallahassee and past president of the Florida Academy of Family Physicians.

Dr. Strong continued, “Several years ago the flu made the headlines because of the H1N1 or swine flu outbreak and that put the flu back on the radar. Throughout my professional career, we’ve battled the flu every year. It’s absolutely time to take it now for protection through the winter months.”

She says that people who are used to getting the flu vaccine are on-board and usually at the front of the line for the vaccine when it becomes available. Dr. Strong has also been trying to increase the vaccination rate and bring others in who are not as highly at risk.

“I’ve been trying to encourage school age children to get the vaccine in an effort to keep schools open and keep teachers there. It’s also for parents who really can’t afford to stay home for a week or two when they’re sick or their child is sick. My nurse has four children and now she lines them all up for the vaccine each year,” she said.

Dr. Strong suggests that even people who have an egg allergy should discuss getting the flu vaccine with their doctor because it may still be advisable. “Nowadays, experts say that under the right circumstances the flu vaccine is still good preventative care.“

Both Dr. Strong and Dr. Hashey suggest visiting your family physician because your doctor is the best source of information. “Walk-in clinics may be okay but if you have concerns about allergy in the past then definitely talk to your physician,” Dr. Strong said.

There are also some new formulations of the flu vaccine including a higher dose containing four times the amount of antigens for people 65 and older, and also one that uses a tiny needle so it’s not a big intramuscular injection for people ages 18 to 64. “It’s as effective as the other flu vaccinations,” she said.

Dr. Hashey emphases the importance of visiting your primary care physician before becoming vaccinated. “We’re our patients’ primary medical home and are the custodians of their health. We have all their medical history. For older patients, it may be time to get the pneumonia shot so we can give both vaccinations at the same time; and for the younger patients, we want to make sure that they’re up to date on their tetanus vaccine (DTaP). Another very important vaccine is the whopping cough vaccination because this disease is coming back in our country.”

The rise of the whopping cough, he says, is occurring because more and more people are avoiding vaccines because of perceived problems. “It doesn’t go from person to person if you can break that cycle of transmission.”

Both family physicians offer suggestions for staying healthy during flu season that include “lots of hand-washing,” coughing into your elbow not into your hand, staying home if you’re sick, diet, exercise, getting enough sleep, and effective stress management. “Remember, stress is not necessarily bad for you,” says Dr. Hashey.

Each year, about 200,000 people go to a hospital with the flu and 36,000 people die because of the flu and complications from the flu. The people who have higher risk of flu complications include all children ages six months to 19 years; all adults 50 years of age or older; all women who are or will be pregnant during flu season; people who are living in nursing homes or long-term care facilities; individuals who have long-term health problems; heathcare workers who have direct contact with patients; and caregivers and household contacts of children less than six months of age.

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