Mary D. Nettleman, MD, MS, MACP is the Chair of the Department of Medicine at Michigan State University. She is a graduate of Vanderbilt Medical School, and completed her residency in Internal Medicine and a fellowship in Infectious Diseases at Indiana University.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth before washing your hands.
Avoid close contact with people who are ill.
Do not share clothes or other personal items with another person during a flu outbreak.
Those infected with influenza should stay at home for 24 hours after fevers have resolved.
The best means of preventing the flu is getting an
influenza vaccination. Two types of vaccines are available. One is the injectable vaccine made from inactivated virus, known as the flu shot. The flu shot contains only killed influenza viruses A and B. The other is a live attenuated, or weakened, virus that is squirted into the nose. This is called intranasal vaccine. The intranasal form is available for certain people who may prefer it to a shot. It is not recommended for people who are immunosuppressed. In addition,
there are variations such as a high dose shot formulation for people over 65 years of age and an intradermal (into the skin) version for ages 18-65 that uses a tiny needle. A complete listing of flu vaccines that are currently available can be found at http://www.immunize.org/catg.d/p4072.pdf.
The influenza vaccine is given every year prior to flu season. Immunity to the flu virus develops after about two weeks. The CDC recommends that vaccine be given starting as soon as it becomes available each
In the 2009-2010 influenza season, there were two distinct vaccines, one for the seasonal strain and one for the pandemic H1N1 strain. For the 2011-2012 season, the H1N1 strain was included along with other strains in the regular seasonal flu shot.
Because of substantial vaccine distribution delays during previous
influenza seasons and the possibility of similar delays in the future, it is
recommended that anyone at high risk for complications from the flu get a
flu shot as early as September. This same group of people can even get the vaccine in December and throughout the flu season.
The vaccine is effective in about 70% to 90% of those who get the shot, especially in older people. Not only does it decrease the risk of getting flu infection, but it can also decrease the number of visits to a doctor's office, hospitalizations, and risk of death from the flu virus.
Who should get the flu vaccine?
Vaccination for the flu each year is recommended for all people over 6 months of age. Those at higher risk should be especially sure to get vaccinated. These include
Anyone older than 50 years of age
A person of any age with chronic diseases of the heart, lungs, or kidneys
obesity or diabetes
Those who are HIV positive or have AIDS
Women who are more than 14 weeks pregnant during the flu season (Women who are pregnant at any stage of their pregnancy and have
a risk of complications from the flu should get the vaccine irrespective of how far they are into the pregnancy. Breastfeeding women can also get the flu shot without worry about harm to the baby.)
Residents of nursing homes and other facilities of long-term care
Children older than 6 months of age who have chronic heart or lung conditions, including asthma
Children and teenagers (6 months to 18 years
of age) who are on long-term aspirin therapy and therefore could develop Reye
syndrome after a flu illness
Health care workers and volunteers who work with high-risk patients, including employees of nursing homes and chronic-care facilities
Household members (including children) of people in high-risk groups
Students or others living in institutional settings (for example, those who reside in dormitories or camps where close contact is likely)
Anyone interested in reducing the risk of getting the flu
The intranasal or live vaccine
(FluMist and others) is an alternative to the flu shot in people who are healthy, 5-49 years of
age, and not pregnant. Exceptions are health care workers who care for severely immunosuppressed patients or people caring for children younger than 6 months
People who are allergic to eggs or who have had Guillain-Barré syndrome (paralysis) within
six weeks of a prior vaccination should check with their doctor before getting an influenza vaccine.
Updates on the seasonal flu vaccine are available on the CDC web site, influenza (flu) (http://www.flu.gov).
Influenza virus infection, one of the most common infectious diseases, is a highly contagious airborne disease that causes an acute febrile illness and results in variable degrees of systemic symptoms, ranging from mild fatigue to respiratory failure and death.