'Tis the season for sniffles, sneezes and stomach bugs, and the full-blown flu is just getting fired up around the country.
This is National Influenza Vaccination Week and health officials say it's the perfect time to remind people to get their influenza vaccine.
Pediatric infectious disease specialist Dr. Jo-Ann Harris says it is vital to have the protection offered by a flu shot this time of year for a couple reasons. For one, she says, cold weather is the perfect breeding ground to fire up flu season. She says flu spreads through respiratory secretions, so the more closely people are packed together indoors during the cold weather, the more likely they are to transmit viruses to one another.
In addition, the holiday season has people traveling into areas where flu may be more prevalent, thereby picking up viruses themselves or bringing them back home to others.
The CDC recommends an influenza vaccination for everyone aged six months and older. Harris says different formulations for the vaccine, including egg-free variations, coupled with low- to no-cost options for obtaining it through places like public health agencies give very little reason to not protect yourself.
The lated CDC flu activity report shows increased influenza activity in states around Kansas. Colorado and Oklahoma both report what's considered local influenza activity, while Texas and Louisiana are among states with regional activity. No states are reporting widespread activity as of yet.
It's too early to know how effective this year's vaccine will be against the strains actually circulating, but Harris says some of this year's formulations protect against four strains instead of the usual three. Plus, addressing a concern from last year when the vaccine was found to be ineffective in seniors, the Cotton-O'Neil Clinics are now offering older patients a high dose immunization. Harris says as people get older, their ability to respond to any vaccine lessens, so delivering the vaccine at a higher dose may be more effective in obtaining the desired immunity.
Influenza isn't the only virus circulating this time of year, so health experts say it is important to take steps to keep those other bugs at bay as well. Chief among those, says Harris, is to cover your coughs and to wash your hands frequently, especially after contact with other people and with communal surfaces, such as door handles. She also says that, despite pressure to continue attending work or school, people who are sick should stay home. She says not only will it help the person get well more quickly, it also prevents exposing other people to their germs.
Harris says if cost is a consideration in getting an influenza vaccine, people should consider the costs of not getting it. The vaccine usually costs anywhere from $0 to $40, depending on health insurance coverage. The typical cost for treating a child's flu illness can range from $300 to $4,000, with illnesses requiring hospitalization seeing greatest expense. Adults must also consider costs such as lost work time.
While the immunization may not prevent all influenza cases, Harris says it will make cases that do occur less severe.