According to information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each winter, millions of people suffer from the flu.
The flu is a highly contagious infection that spreads easily from person to person (mainly when an infected person coughs or sneezes).
Flu, the common name for influenza, is caused by viruses that infect the nose, throat and lungs. Usually, the flu is categorized as a mild disease when it attacks healthy children, young adults and middle-aged people. However, flu can be life threatening in older adults, as well as in people of any age who have chronic illnesses such as diabetes or heart, lung or kidney diseases.
By getting a yearly flu shot, you can greatly reduce your chances of getting the flu. While no vaccine gives complete protection, studies have shown that getting a flu shot reduces hospitalizations by approximately 70 percent and flu-related deaths by about 85 percent among the elderly.
According to the CDC, the following people are at risk for serious illness from the flu and should very seriously consider getting a flu shot every year.
=people 65 years of age and older
=residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
=adults and children who have chronic heart or lung diseases
=adults and children with diabetes, kidney disease or severe forms of anemia
=health care workers in contact with people in high-risk groups
=caregivers or people who live with someone in a high-risk group
Here in the United States, flu season usually occurs from November through April. Most people get the flu between late December and early March.
The optimal time to get a flu shot is between September and mid-November. The flu shot does not cause side effects in most people. Less than one-third of those who get the shot have some soreness, redness or swelling at the injection site; these mild side effects rarely last more than a day or two. About 7.5 percent of people get a headache or low-grade fever which lasts for about one day after receiving the shot.
Most people who get the flu recover completely in one to two weeks, but some people develop serious and possibly life-threatening complications. While your body is fighting off the flu, you may be less able to resist a second infection.
It is very important to remember that older people and those with chronic illnesses run the greatest risk of getting secondary infections, especially pneumonia. In an average year, flu leads to about 20,000 deaths nationwide and many more hospitalizations. Flu symptoms include fever, chills, dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, headache, muscle aches and often extreme fatigue. Although nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea can sometimes accompany the flu (especially in children), gastrointestinal symptoms rarely occur. The illness that people call "stomach flu" is not influenza. Call your doctor immediately if you have any signs of flu:
=Your fever lasts for more than a day. (You may have a more serious infection.)
=You have breathing or heart problems or other serious health problems.
=You are taking drugs to fight cancer or other drugs that weaken your body's immune system.
=You feel sick and don't seem to be getting better.
=You have a cough that begins to produce phlegm.
If you have any questions or comments regarding today's column, call North Country Home Services at 483-4502 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Next time: Long-distance caregiving.