Although COVID-19 is grabbing a lot of attention right now because it is a new virus, it is important to remember that for most people COVID-19 is a mild respiratory infection. Children, in particular, seem to do quite well. Our patients are at a higher risk of influenza infection and its complications. Remember it’s not too late to get your influenza vaccine. Schedule a nurse visit anytime.
Every winter, influenza viruses circulate throughout the Northern Hemisphere. Influenza, or “the flu”, is a highly contagious illness that is spread through contact with microscopic water particles in the air. This year we are already diagnosing patients with influenza. The typical symptoms are:
- Abrupt onset of high fever
- Headache and body aches
- Sore throat and cough
- Vomiting, in some cases
If you are sick, we encourage careful handwashing, covering your mouth when coughing, and avoiding others when you have a fever. Thankfully, many who are infected with influenza can recover with extra rest and hydration, along with pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen (Tylenol). Unfortunately, every year there are others who become severely ill. Some need to be on breathing machines to support their failing lungs. Typically, over 100 children die from influenza every year. Of these children, 80% were not fully immunized and many were totally healthy prior to becoming infected. Imagine a family’s devastation when a healthy child dies from a disease that could possibly have been prevented. The elderly are hit even harder. Typically 30,000-60,000 elderly die of influenza each year.
Unfortunately, the nickname “flu” is used to refer to several different diseases. The “stomach flu” is a virus that gets into the intestines causing vomiting and diarrhea, whereas influenza is a respiratory infection. The “flu shot” or more precisely, the “influenza vaccine” will not prevent the stomach flu, nor will it prevent common colds or other types of illness. However, the influenza vaccine will clearly help reduce the severity of influenza infections. Not only does the immunization help the one receiving it but it also helps reduce the amount of influenza circulating in the community thereby helping all those around as well. You never know if someone around you has a weakened immune system and would be more susceptible to complications. Wouldn’t you hate to pass the influenza virus to a frail grandparent that visits for the holidays?
We strongly encourage all those 6 months and older that are eligible to get vaccinated as the best way to prevent disease. Obviously, we wish the vaccine were perfect. Some who receive the vaccine may still become infected with influenza, but it clearly reduces the severity of the illness. Two recent studies analyzing data from the past 5 years, demonstrate that the influenza vaccine reduces the risk of hospitalization and death nearly in half for pediatric patients, not to mention reducing the risk to others in your home and community. So, please get vaccinated.
Originally published Dec. 12, 2019
Photo credit: Heather Hazzan, SELF Magazine.