November 14, 2011
Each year from November to April, millions of people come down with the flu. Medical experts, including Darryl K. Nelson, MD, chief medical officer of HCA Midwest Health System, Kansas City’s largest healthcare network, say that while the flu—which usually enters the body through the mouth or nose—can be dangerous, it can usually be prevented with a simple flu shot.
“One of the most effective ways to stop at least 75 percent of those infections is through a flu shot—it decreases the chance of hospitalization by 60 percent and death from the contagious virus by 80 percent,” says Dr. Nelson.
The flu virus can become airborne if an infected individual coughs or sneezes, which tends to spread the flu rapidly to people in close proximity. Flu symptoms can be mistaken for a cold, but Dr. Nelson says that the onset is typically more sudden and includes symptoms such as severe muscle aches, chills and fever, extreme fatigue, sore throat, headache and cough.
When the flu hits, according to Dr. Nelson, common sense should prevail. “Mild flu symptoms can quickly escalate and become severe. People with the flu should take precautions to protect themselves, their families and co-workers, and others by avoiding close contact and staying home from work or school until fever-free for at least 24 hours,” says Dr. Nelson. “This helps to stop the virus from spreading.”
The flu vaccine is recommended for children 6 months and older, and for those in high-risk groups including adults age 65 and older, pregnant women, people with certain chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease and asthma. People with compromised immune systems due to cancer and HIV or AIDs are also considered at-risk and should consider a flu shot.
“Side effects from the vaccine are usually minimal, “ says Dr. Nelson. “Nearly 15 percent of patients receiving the vaccine report a soreness or redness at the shot site, and serious reactions are one in a million.” In addition to the shot, there is a nasal spray vaccine for select patients.”
Dr. Nelson says that people with severe egg allergies or Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a rare neurologic condition, should not have a flu shot. “It’s always sensible to consult with your physician before getting a flu shot,” he says.
Flu season typically begins in November and runs through March. Dr. Nelson recommends getting vaccinated early. One shot protects against different strains that the CDC has predicted to be most active. In addition to the vaccine, Dr. Nelson urges people to be vigilant in good hand hygiene and in covering their nose and mouth when sneezing. “Get plenty of rest, drink fluids and practice good nutrition, too,” says Dr. Nelson. “This will increase your protection during the flu season, and also against other cold viruses typical during the fall and winter months.”
HCA Midwest hospitals and Midwest Physicians offices offer flu shots, including Allen County Hospital, Centerpoint Medical Center, Lafayette Regional Health Center, Lee’s Summit Medical Center, Menorah Medical Center, Overland Park Regional Medical Center, Research Belton Hospital and Research Medical Center.