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Advice for Healthy Living

October 9th, 2017

Staying healthy this flu season

Dr. Aparna Vallabhaneni
WellMed at Georgetown

Maybe you or someone you know took the flu mist in recent years, the inhalable version of the flu shot. If you did, here’s something you should know.

The Centers for Disease Control recommends that LAIV (Live attenuated influenza vaccine flumist) not be used during the 2017 to 2018 influenza season. The flu mist was not effective in preventing influenza in children, whereas the flu shot was 60 percent effective.

So if the sting of the flu shot bothers you, please remember it’s a temporary pain that can save you a world of hurt. Every year, doctors like me urge their patients to get the flu vaccine. We know the influenza virus makes thousands of people ill every year, and older adults are particularly vulnerable. It can, and does, kill tens of thousands of folks.

In Texas alone, 2,052 have died from influenza or pneumonia this year (through the week of Sept. 2), according to the Centers for Disease Control. In Florida, where WellMed also treats a largely Medicare-eligible population of adults, the death toll is nearing 3,000 (2,963).

The number of deaths varies from year to year, depending on which strain of the flu virus is circulating in the country. The influenza B strain has a higher survival rate versus the influenza A strain. But whichever strain is prevalent, the good news is that the flu shot can help protect you against both.

It’s not too late to get a shot. You need to get vaccinated now, however, as the flu season is about to get into full swing.

Coughing and sneezing can easily spread the flu from person to person. Even if someone doesn’t appear to have the flu, they may be contagious. Children, older adults, and patients with chronic illnesses and those with compromised immune systems are contagious for even longer periods of time.

The major complication of influenza is pneumonia, which occurs most often in high-risk individuals like children less than 2 years of age, adults over 65 years of age, and those with chronic lung diseases, heart diseases and lowered immune systems to diseases or medications to treat HIV and cancer.

There are two basic vaccines in use for adults. A high-dose trivalent – inactivated influenza vaccine – is approved for individuals 65 years of age and older. This shot contains four times the standard dose of each vaccine antigen (60 mcg instead of 15 mcg). The other vaccine is the standard dose – inactivated influenza vaccine – which is approved for adults ages 18 to 64.

Finally, the CDC recommends getting a flu vaccine before flu begins spreading in our community. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for the body to be protected against flu. So, best to get vaccinated early in fall, preferably by the end of October, if possible. Getting vaccinated later, however, can still be beneficial and vaccination should continue to be offered throughout the flu season, even into January or later.

If you have questions about the flu and the flu vaccine, talk to your primary care doctor.

Aparna Vallabhaneni, MD is a provider at WellMed at Georgetown. She earned her medical degree from the University of Pondicherry in Karaikal, India. She later completed her internship and residency in Internal Medicine at Hurley Medical Center in Flint, Michigan. Dr. Vallabhaneni is board certified in Internal Medicine.