By Tamera Manzanares
It can start with a sore throat, headache or runny nose. When the body aches take hold, you know you’re in trouble. The seasonal flu vaccine is a person’s first line of defense against an illness that can leave a person stuck at home feeling miserable, or worse, in the hospital.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends everyone age six months and older get a flu vaccine each year. Last flu season, there were more than 1,600 flu-related hospitalizations and one pediatric death in Colorado. The most hospitalizations occurred among children age 23 months and younger and adults 65 and older, according to the Colorado Department of Health and Environment.
Although Colorado’s last flu season peaked mid-March, it’s best not to delay getting a flu shot. Flu season can be unpredictable (several flu cases have been reported in the state in October), and it takes about two weeks for the vaccine to be effective. Vaccine supplies also can dwindle as the season progresses. Flu immunization is available at primary care clinics and many pharmacies. Northwest Colorado Health is holding drop in flu clinics through Nov. 9 in Steamboat Springs and Nov. 10 in Craig.
Flu vaccines are developed months in advance to protect against three to four flu viruses that research and surveillance indicate will likely be most common during the season. Flu viruses change from year to year and even within the course of one flu season. There is always the possibility of a less than optimal match between circulating viruses and the viruses used to make the vaccine. Even when there is a less than ideal match, the vaccine may protect against the other viruses. Flu vaccination is not a perfect tool, but it is the best way to protect against flu infection.
When most healthy people with regular immune systems are vaccinated, their bodies produce antibodies that protect them throughout the flu season, even as antibody levels decline over time. Older adults and others with weakened immune systems may not generate the same amount of antibodies after vaccination. Special vaccines are available to boost immune response in adults 65 and older.
Some children nine or younger may need a booster vaccine. Infants and children younger than six months cannot receive the flu vaccine but are among those at risk of becoming very sick from the flu. Immunization is especially important for anyone who will be in contact with young children and others who cannot be vaccinated and/or are at higher risk for complications, including pregnant women, older adults and people with underlying health conditions.
Throughout the season, it’s important to wash your hands frequently and cover your cough to avoid getting or spreading the flu. The CDC recommends people who get sick with the flu stay home from work or school until at least 24 hours after their fever is gone. Antiviral medications can lessen symptoms and duration of the flu. They are most effective within 48 hours of illness. Individuals who are at risk of complications should check with their healthcare provider promptly after getting sick. Others can be treated with antivirals at their healthcare provider’s discretion.