The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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October 6, 2012

Preventing flu: Experts: Get vaccine to avoid illness

— Influenza vaccine protects more than just the person getting the flu shot. It helps prevent spreading the virus to others.

“I don’t want to give the flu to my wife or my loved ones,” said Dr. Louis Schenfeld of Johnstown, an infectious disease specialist.

“Everybody should get the vaccine, unless you have had a serious reaction to eggs or a reaction to flu shots before.”

There should be plenty of flu vaccine to go around, and it seems to be targeting the right types of virus this year, state Health Department spokeswoman Holly Senior said from Harrisburg.

“The supply, from our understanding, is abundant this year,” Senior said. “There should be no problem with availability.”

Although for healthy adults the flu usually runs its course in a week or so with no long-term effects, the illness itself is miserable. With fever, body aches, cough and sniffles, the flu has been compared to feeling like you’ve been hit by a truck.

Those infected with the flu normally have to take time off from work, school, sports and recreational activities.

But more importantly, the flu can lead to life-threatening complications in those older than 65, the very young and those with certain medical conditions, such as asthma, diabetes, chronic lung disease and heart problems, Senior said.

People in those high-risk groups should get flu shots, and those who live in the same house or are in close contact with high-risk individuals should get the vaccine, Senior said.

It is especially important for the parents of infants to get flu shots because the vaccine is not effective in babies younger than 6 months, Senior said. But those babies still can get sick from the flu.

“It is very important that those who may be in the same households to be vaccinated to protect those under 6 months old,” she said.

Getting the flu increases the risk of dying from heart attacks or other cardiovascular disease, Schenfeld added.

It is not too early to get a flu shot, Schenfeld said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention used to recommend waiting until late October or November, but those guidelines changed.

“They can start getting it now – nor is it ever too late to get a flu shot,” Schenfeld said, explaining that the flu season normally peaks in January or February and lasts through April, but every season is different. Some years the peak has come as late as March.

This year’s flu shots contain a new vaccine, targeting three different strains of the virus, Schenfeld said. The vaccine is made from dead virus, so it is not possible to catch the flu from a flu shot.

It is a little early to say whether the virus strains targeted will be the same as those circulating in the United States this year, but the vaccine is a good match for what was going around in the Southern Hemisphere during the flu season that is winding down there, Senior said.

Flu shots are available at most primary care doctors’ offices, drugstores, urgent care centers and state health centers, Senior said. A schedule of flu shot clinics is available online at flushotfinder.com.

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