HEALTH MATTERS: What three-letter word spells m-i-s-e-r-y?

The CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine as the first and most important step in defending against the virus.

By Michael S. Arcaro, M.D., and Mark E. Arcaro, M.D. Princeton HealthCare System
    Winter is right around the corner. Now is the time to take action and protect yourself against one of the season’s most common and potentially fatal viruses — the flu.
    Yes, it’s time for your annual flu shot.
    For older adults and children, along with people living with chronic medical conditions, a flu shot can mean the difference between staying healthy or landing in the hospital with pneumonia, or worse.
    Annual statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) paint a troubling picture:
    • More than 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu complications; more than half of these are people age 65 and older.
    • Ten percent of those hospitalized are children younger than 5 years old.
    • An average of 36,000 people die from flu-related complications, with 90 percent of those deaths occurring in people age 65 and older.
    The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that easily spread from person to person in respiratory droplets when infected people cough or sneeze. People occasionally may become infected by touching something contaminated by the influenza virus and then touching their mouth, nose or eyes.
    The CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine as the first and most important step in defending against the virus.
    The vaccine comes in two types — a shot and a nasal spray. Each contains three influenza viruses, which change annually based on scientific estimations about which types and strains of the virus will circulate in a given year.
    The shot is the most common form and consists of parts of the killed virus that is injected with a needle in the arm. This form is approved for use in people older than 6 months, including healthy people and people with chronic medical conditions.
    The nasal spray vaccine is made with live, weakened flu viruses that do not cause the flu. The spray is approved for use in healthy people between the ages of 2 and 49 who are not pregnant.
    Although winter — the main season for the flu — is still several weeks away, the time to get vaccinated is now, especially given that influenza outbreaks can occur as early as October. However, the flu virus tends to peak in January or later, so even getting a shot in December could help defend against becoming sick.
    Anybody who wants to avoid contracting the flu is a candidate for the vaccine, but the CDC recommends that certain high-risk people be vaccinated each year. These include:
    • Children age 6 months to 19 years.
    • Pregnant women.
    • People age 50 or older.
    • People of any age with chronic medical conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.
    • People who live in long-term care facilities or nursing homes.
    • People who live with or care for those at high risk for complications from the flu, including health care workers and caregivers.
    Minor side effects of the vaccine may include a low-grade fever and symptoms that may mimic the flu, but that are short-lived and less severe. Some people also may experience soreness, redness or swelling where the shot was given. About two weeks after vaccination, antibodies that protect against the flu virus develop in the body.
    People who should not be vaccinated without consulting a physician include:
    • Those allergic to chicken eggs.
    • Those that have had a severe reaction to the influenza vaccine.
    • Those that have developed Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) after getting a vaccine in the past.
    • Those with moderate-to-severe-illness with a fever (they should wait till fever resolves before getting vaccinated).
    • Children less than 6 months old.
    In addition to vaccinating against the flu, common everyday measures to keep from getting sick and spreading the virus include covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, and then throwing the tissue in the trash; washing your hands with soap and warm water, especially after you sneeze or cough; avoiding contact with sick people, and avoiding touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
    If you do contract the flu, the CDC recommends staying home from school or work to avoid spreading the virus.
    Symptoms of the flu include a fever that lasts for more than two days, headache, extreme tiredness, dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose and muscle aches. People often confuse the common cold for the flu. However, flu symptoms are more severe, last longer and make people feel worse than a cold.
    Moreover, the flu could have serious complications, including pneumonia and, in extreme cases, death, for people at high risk.
    If you suspect you have the flu, see your health care provider immediately. Treatment generally includes an antiviral drug to help shorten the duration and make the symptoms less severe. Physicians may also test for the flu, but results, which take two or more days, are typically best used for tracking purposes.
    Princeton HealthCare System will be participating in the annual Flu Fair for Princeton residents age 65 and older from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 5, at the Suzanne Patterson Center at Princeton Senior Resource Center, 45 Stockton St., Princeton. Health professionals from Princeton HealthCare System will provide a variety of health screenings, including blood pressure, glucose, cholesterol and body fat analysis.
    Princeton Senior Resource Center and the Princeton Regional Health Department will offer free flu shots for Princeton Township and Borough residents with a Medicare card and $10 flu shots for residents without a Medicare card. Proof of residency is required for flu shots only. All other health screenings are free of charge.
    Registration is required. To register, call 609-924-7108.
Dr. Michael S. Arcaro and Dr. Mark E. Arcaro are identical twins and members of the medical staff at Princeton HealthCare System. Both specialize in internal medicine.