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Vaccine best defense against flu virus

Influenza is unpredictable. While flu spreads every year, the timing, severity and length of the season varies from one season to another. Seasonal flu activity often begins as early as October and November and can continue to occur as late as May 1.

As of Nov. 30, 365 influenza-associated hospitalizations and four influenza-associated deaths were reported in Clark County. Influenza B was the dominant type circulating.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a yearly flu vaccine for everyone 6 months of age and older as the first and most important step in protecting against this potentially serious disease. In addition to getting vaccinated, you and your loved ones can take everyday preventive actions like staying away from sick people and washing your hands to reduce the spread of germs. If you are sick with flu, stay home from work or school to prevent spreading flu to others.

It’s possible to get sick with flu even if you have been vaccinated (although you won’t know for sure unless you get a flu test). This is possible for the following reasons:

■ You may be exposed to a flu virus shortly before getting vaccinated or during the period that it takes the body to gain protection after getting vaccinated. This exposure may result in you becoming ill before the vaccine begins to protect you. (Antibodies that provide protection develop in the body about two weeks after vaccination.)

■ You may be exposed to a flu virus that is not included in the seasonal vaccine. There are many different flu viruses that circulate every year. A flu vaccine is made to protect against the three or four viruses that research suggests will be most common.

■ The flu vaccine varies in how well it works and, unfortunately, some people can become infected with a virus that a flu vaccine is designed to protect against, despite getting vaccinated. Flu vaccination is not a perfect product, but it is the best way to protect against infection.

■ Even if you do get the flu after being vaccinated, some studies have shown that a flu vaccine can reduce the severity of your illness.

Flu viruses usually infect the respiratory tract (i.e., the airways of the nose, throat and lungs). As the infection progresses, the body’s immune system responds to fight the virus. This results in inflammation that can trigger respiratory symptoms such as cough and sore throat. The immune system response also can trigger fever and cause muscle or body aches.

When infected people cough, sneeze or talk, they can spread flu viruses in respiratory droplets to people who are nearby. People might also get flu by touching a contaminated surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth or nose.

Most people who become sick will recover in a few days to less than two weeks, but some people may become more severely ill. Most people with flu have mild illness and do not need medical care or antiviral drugs. If you get sick with flu symptoms, in most cases, you should stay home and avoid contact with other people except to get medical care.

If, however, you have symptoms of flu and are at high risk of complications, or are very sick or concerned about your illness, contact your health care provider. There are drugs your doctor may prescribe for treating flu called antivirals. These drugs can make you better faster and may also prevent serious complications.

Treatment with antivirals works best when begun within 48 hours of getting sick. However, treatment can still be beneficial when given later in the course of illness.

Studies show that prompt treatment with antiviral drugs can prevent serious flu complications. Prompt treatment can mean the difference between having a milder illness versus a very serious illness that could result in a hospital stay.

To Your Health is provided by the staff of Boulder City Hospital. For more information, call 702-293-4111, ext. 576, or visit bouldercityhospital.org.

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