If you’ve been to your local pharmacy anytime during the last few weeks, you may have seen the signs advertising the availability of flu shots. You might be thinking to yourself, “Already? It’s only September.”
With a typical flu season doesn’t peak until late January or early February, some doctors are waiting to vaccinate their patients until early fall. Dr. Scott Major of Summit Primary Care in Tennessee told USA Today that he is advising his patients to wait until the end of the month or beginning of October before rushing out to get the vaccine. "It is incredibly rare to see the flu before October," he said.
Dr. Kelly Moore of the Tennessee Department of Health compares the flu shot to a tank of gasoline. "The vaccine makes your body produce antibodies against the flu, but over time the amount of antibodies decline, kind of like a tank of gas,” she said. The elderly are particularly vulnerable because they tend to run out of these antibodies sooner.
That being said, the Centers For Disease Control (CDC) is recommending that doctors begin vaccinating their patients as soon as they vaccine shipments arrive. Those at the highest risk for complications from influenza include: adults 65 years and older, people with chronic medical conditions such as asthma, heart disease, and diabetes, pregnant women, children younger than five, and American Indians and Alaskan Natives.
This year’s vaccine will offer protection against two strains of influenza, in addition to H1N1 (the strain that lead to the swine flu outbreak in 2009). At this time, there is no particular strain in “wide circulation.”
Should you get vaccinated?
The short answer: Yes. The CDC is recommending that any person over the age of 6 months receive the vaccine. The CDC is strongly urging not only those at high risk for complications related to the flu to get the vaccine, but also their care providers. Caregivers, both in hospitals and long-term care settings as well as those caring for at-risk loved one at home, can help slow the spread of the virus by getting vaccinated.
For in-home care givers this may be an essential way of keeping aging and frail elderly out of hospitals and nursing homes this flu season. Many care givers still have full-time jobs or spend time socializing with others where the opportunity to come in contact with someone who has the flu is great. A quick handshake with a just-sneezed-in hand can bring the flu virus back home, compromising an already at-risk loved one.
The CDC has been examining the role of vaccinations for providers in long-term care setting and hospitals. It has been shown that low vaccination rates among providers in these types of facilities lead to influenza outbreaks; whereas higher vaccination rates prove to reduce flu-like illnesses, and even deaths associated with the virus.
For caregivers at home, in an assisted living facility, nursing home or hospital, the risk of being exposed to the flu virus is great. The risk of spreading that same virus to your patients, to your co-workers or to your family and friends is great. If your employer doesn’t offer flu vaccinations, perhaps a quick trip to your local pharmacy can help save a life.
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