Thursday, February 22, 2018

Preventing Flu: Stay Healthy this Winter

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Category: Flu

Flu spreads through the air and you inhale the virus. Colds can also spread through the air, but flu spreads much more easily. “If you put a cold sufferer in a room full of people who are susceptible, several will catch the cold,” the CDC’s Nancy Arden says. “But if you put a person with influenza A in that same room, within one to three days, most of them will get the flu.” But there are measures you can take to prevent the flu.

Flu Shot. If you’re under 65, the annual flu shot, available every fall, is the best preventive method, and is 70 percent effective in preventing flu. If you’re elderly, the shot is less effective because most older people’s immune systems are not as robust, so the vaccine does not stimulate as powerful a defensive response. “But at any age,” the CDC’s Nancy Arden says, “if you get the flu after you’ve had a flu shot, it’s usually mild.”

The CDC recommends getting immunized in October or November. It takes a week or two after vaccination to develop effective immunity, Arden says.

You have to get vaccinated every year because flu viruses change constantly. The CDC tracks flu outbreaks around the world, and each spring, directs vaccine makers to produce a vaccine to protect against the Type A and B strains expected to strike the U.S. the following winter.

Anyone can get a flu shot—including pregnant women after their first trimester. The only people who should not get vaccinated are those with serious allergies to eggs, which are used to manufacture the vaccine.

Many health departments make flu shots available at low cost or for free every October and November. Call yours. In addition, some pharmacy chains also offer low-cost flu shots in their stores each fall. Check the ones near you.

Unfortunately, several myths keep many people from getting immunized:

• “I can’t be bothered.” It takes maybe an hour and a few bucks to get a flu shot. If you don’t get one, and catch the flu, you’re out of commission for at least a week. Think about it.

• “Flu shots cause the flu.” Absolutely not. A flu shot is your best protection against the flu. The reason some people believe this myth, Dr. Mostow explains, is that, coincidentally, they catch colds after getting vaccinated and mistakenly blame the illness on the shot. Or they catch the flu immediately after getting vaccinated, before the shot has had a chance to immunize them.

• “Flu shots cause side effects.” Side effects, if any, are usually mild—soreness at the injection site for a day or so, with perhaps a little achiness or hives. Children sometimes develop a brief low-grade fever. But these side effects are trivial compared with a case of flu, Arden says.

• “Flu shots can cause paralysis.” No. Way back in 1976, a few of the millions of people who received that year’s shot developed a rare, paralytic disorder, Guillain-Barré syndrome. The episode tarnished the flu shot’s reputation for years. Today, experts consider that incident a freak accident, and point out that since 1976, more than 150 million flu shots have been administered with no serious side effects.

Stress Management

Stress shoots flu shots. At Ohio State University College of Medicine, Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, Ph.D., a professor of psychology and psychiatry, gave flu shots to 64 elderly people, half of whom were caregivers for spouses with Alzheimer’s disease, a responsibility that causes severe stress. A month later, she used standard blood tests to measure the participants’ immune response to the vaccine. Non-caregivers showed strong immune responses, meaning good protection from flu. The caregivers, however, showed significantly less robust responses. The chronic stress of caregiving impaired their immune systems’ ability to respond to the vaccine, leaving them more vulnerable to flu.

Immune Enhancement

• Rev your resistance. Your body’s ability to fight any illness depends on the vitality of your immune system.

Prescriptions Medications to Prevent Flu

In addition to treating flu, prescription amantadine and rimantadine also help prevent it. For prevention of Type A, they are about as effective as vaccination, but they are less effective than a flu shot for prevention of influenza B. However, for decent protection, these drugs must be taken daily for the duration of any flu outbreak in your community. This can turn into an expensive hassle, which is why the CDC promotes flu shots and considers antivirals a last resort if you didn’t get one.

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