Flu season is here — time to get your vaccination!  The flu, or influenza virus, can be a serious disease that has the potential to lead to hospitalization, especially in the very young, pregnant woman, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems.  Complications include dehydration, pneumonia, sepsis and possible death.

The flu is a contagious respiratory illness that infects the nose, throat and lungs.  It is spread via droplets from an infected person’s cough, sneeze, or even just talking.  Once airborne, infected droplets can land in the mouth or nose of people who are up to 6 feet away!  On steel or plastic, the virus in the droplets can last for days, which is why it is imperative to cover the mouth with the crook of the arm when coughing or sneezing– not the hands — to avoid transferring the virus to public surfaces, such as light switches, handrails, door handles, etc.    Washing the hands after coughing, sneezing and nose blowing, as well as before and after patient contact for those working in a healthcare setting, can help prevent the spread of germs.

Symptoms typically appear one to four days after the virus enters the body, triggering fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headaches, chills and fatigue.   Most adults may be able to infect others before symptoms even develop, on average of 5-7 days after becoming sick; children may be able to pass the virus for even longer.

Flu season begins and ends at different times, ranging from late fall, winter and ending in spring.  Annual vaccination is necessary as there is no permanent immunity from the flu due to the continuous genetic changes viruses undergo; vaccinations are developed to protect against the three or four influenza viruses that research indicates will be prevalent in the upcoming flu season.

Employees in a healthcare facility should get vaccinated each year in the fall to protect their own health, as well as that of the patients under their care.   Vaccinations typically take a couple of weeks to build up immunity in the body, which is why flu shots are usually given starting in October.

Contrary to what many people may think, the injectable flu vaccine cannot cause the flu since it is made from killed or weakened viruses. Pain, redness and soreness at the injection site, headache and fatigue are the most common reactions.   For those with egg allergies, other, more serious side effects can occur since the flu vaccine is made via an egg-based manufacturing process.  A recombinant vaccine that is completely egg-free is available for those 18 years and older.

Healthcare employees who opt not to get the flu vaccination for personal or medical reasons are required to wear a mask to prevent transmission of droplets of bodily fluids that may contain viruses.  Masks must be worn throughout the entire duration of the flu season, which potentially can last up to six months.

Good hygiene, a healthy diet, rest and daily exercise can go a long way to staying healthy and warding off illness.   Vaccination against the flu is another important component of a flu prevention plan for you, your family and surrounding community.  Get your vaccination today!

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