National Influenza Vaccination Week

December 7 – 13, 2014 is National Influenza Vaccination Week. In 2005, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) created National Influenza Vaccination Week (NIVW) to call attention to the ongoing need for flu vaccination throughout the traditional flu season and beyond. Influenza and pneumonia are the 7th leading cause of death in the United States, and a surprising statistic shows that the United States averaged 23,607 deaths each year between 1976 and 2007 from influenza alone. The ‘true’ flu is a respiratory illness caused by flu viruses that spread easily between people. While the flu virus can cause misery with an illness ranging from mild to severe, in some cases, the flu can lead to death. During the typical flu season, a shocking 90 percent of flu-related deaths, and 50 to 60 percent of flu-related hospital admissions, in the United States occur in those 65 and over. Because the human immune system weakens with age, influenza can be a very serious disease for seniors. Caregivers are often the first line of defense for the senior population in both prevention and treatment.Elderly couple ill with influenza

When Is Flu Season

The arrival of ‘flu season’ is irregular, and it varies from season to season. Typically, cases of the flu peak between December and February in the United States. It’s important to note, though, that flu season can start as early as October and last as long as May. Meaning, that ‘spring cold’ you catch may actually be the flu! The CDC recommends that everyone get the yearly flu vaccine as soon as it’s available, and earlier rather than later in the year, to ensure protection from the virus before flu season begins.

Who Should Get The Flu Shot

While the CDC recommends that everyone get the flu vaccine as the best protection against this potentially fatal disease, there are certain people who are at greater risk for complications, treatment requiring hospitalization and even death. According to the CDC website, these high-risk people are:

Pregnant women
Children younger than 5, but especially children younger than 2
Anyone 65 years of age or over
People of any age with chronic medical conditions like heart diease, asthma, diabetes
People living in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities

And for caregivers, vaccination is especially important, because they come into contact with high-risk individuals. The CDC also recommends vaccination for:

Health care workers
Those who interact with the ‘high-risk’ persons listed above
Out of home caregivers and household contacts of children less than 6 months old as these children are too young to be vaccinated

About The Flu Shot – Now In A Nasal Spray

The flu vaccine is updated every year with a formulation designed to protect against the flu viruses predicted to be most common during the coming flu season. Whatever immunity you gained from last year’s vaccine, or bout of the flu, wanes over the year, so a new dose is required annually. The vaccine, whether delivered as a shot or via nasal spray, causes antibodies to develop in your body within two weeks or so. People age 65 and over have two flu vaccine choices: the regular dose shot or spray, or a newer flu vaccine tailored to those 65+, containing a higher dose. While the higher dose vaccine does produce more antibodies, and thus a stronger immune response, there is no conclusive proof yet that this means greater protection against the flu. One recent study in The New England Journal of Medicine did show that the higher dose vaccine prevented the flu 24.2% more effectively in adults 65 and up, so consider the high octane version this year.

Where Can I Get The Flu Shot

It seems like the flu shot is everywhere this time of year: your doctor’s office, the pharmacy, the drugstore, and even your office. Use this Flu Vaccine Finder from Flu.gov to find the closest place near you to get your flu vaccine.

Caregivers And The Flu

The best way to beat the flu is to not get the flu in the first place. Practice good ‘defensive’ health habits such as washing your hands often, avoiding people who are sick, and the just-plain-common-sense tactic of not sharing forks, mugs and water bottles with other people. You just don’t know who’s been breathing on them! And what if you – or your loved one – are unlucky enough to catch the dreaded flu bug? Go to the doctor right away! Stoicism or denial won’t help, but speedy treatment with antiviral drugs will make a difference. The earlier that antiviral drugs are used to treat very sick people with the flu, the better chance you and your loved have of avoiding serious flu complications like hospitalization or worse.