Seasonal flu can also pose health risks

In the flurry of attention devoted to HIN1 flu, don’t forget that seasonal flu can also cause serious health risks for persons with disabilities. The Centers for Disease Control and Minnesota Department of Health offer many useful tips for those trying to ward off seasonal flu. Persons with disabilities should be especially mindful of the need to have a seasonal flu shot and to make sure their caregivers and family members are also vaccinated.

Seasonal flu can strike quickly. Symptoms include fever, headache, extreme tiredness, dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle aches, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea (more common in children than adults). Flu can lead to complications including bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections, dehydration, and worsening of certain chronic medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure, asthma, or diabetes.

Seasonal flu, also called influenza, is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. The best way to prevent seasonal flu is by getting a seasonal flu vaccination each year. Vaccines are given either in the form of a shot or a nasal mist. According to the CDC, the flu shot is approved for use in people older than 6 months, including healthy people and people with chronic medical conditions, and pregnant women. Nasal mist works best for healthy persons up to age 49.

In Minnesota this fall there have been shortages of the seasonal flu vaccine. But state officials indicate that vaccine is still available, though doctors and through community flu shot clinics.
To find out where to go to get a flu shot or flu vaccine (including FluMist, a nasal spray), contact your health care provider or visit www.mdh flu.com and click on Find a Seasonal Flu Shot

The problem of vaccine shortages may actually be a good sign, said Kristen Ehresmann, director of the Infectious Disease, Epidemiology and Control Division for the Minnesota Department of Health. “So many Minnesotans have been responding to our calls to get vaccinated early for seasonal influenza this year that the supply in the pipeline hasn’t been able to keep up with the demand,” she said. “But more vaccine is on the way, so keep checking back with your provider to find out when they will have it.”

Minnesotans seeking seasonal flu shots who find their health care provider is temporarily out of vaccine should not be discouraged, state health officials say, but should keep checking with their provider to see when more will be available. Adequate supplies of seasonal flu vaccine are expected in the state, but some providers have already used up their initial orders while others have not yet received theirs.

Who is considered to be high risk for seasonal flu? People age 50 and older, and anyone of any age with a chronic medical condition or compromised immune system is at high risk. So are children six months through 18 years of age and pregnant women. Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities need to be vaccinated, as do health care and personal care workers. If you are in a household with persons in the various risk categories or if you work with people who are considered high risk, it is also advised that you be vaccinated.

“Getting the seasonal flu shot as it becomes available is an important step in protecting yourself from the influenza season that we anticipate in MN,” Ehresmann said.

According to the CDC, every year in the United States on average 5% to 20% of the population gets the flu. More than 200,000 people are hospitalized from seasonal flu complications, including 20,000 children. About 36,000 people die from seasonal flu.

That’s why seasonal flu vaccinations are important for you, your family members and your personal care providers. The single best way to protect against seasonal flu is to get vaccinated each year. Fall is the best time to get vaccinated, but getting vaccinated later in the flu season-in December, January, and beyond-still provides protection, as flu season normally peaks in January or later. It typically takes about two weeks for a seasonal flu vaccine to take effect. Seasonal flu vaccines will NOT provide protection against 2009 H1N1 influenza. The 2009 H1N1 vaccine is currently in production and initial doses of licensed vaccine are expected to be available by October.
Seasonal flu and 2009 H1N1 vaccines may be administered on the same day, with the exception that persons who wish to receive live nasal-spray vaccines for both seasonal and 2009 H1N1 influenza. According to the CDC, they will need to receive those vaccines at least four weeks apart. Ask your medical professional for details specific to your specific health situation.

In general, anyone who wants to reduce the chances of getting the flu can and should get vaccinated every year. Full protection from influenza this year may require at least two vaccinations for most people: one for seasonal (regular) flu and one for Novel H1N1, so it’s not too early to start thinking about when and where you will get your seasonal flu shot. Children under age nine may require two doses of seasonal vaccine and are also in the recommended group to receive 2009 H1N1 vaccine.

Some health care and vaccination providers have already received some of their orders for seasonal flu vaccine, and they are being encouraged to offer the flu shots to patients as soon as they have it. However, health officials say flu shots can be given at almost any time during the flu season. Seasonal influenza usually arrives in Minnesota in December or January, according to MDH.

Seasonal flu shots are typically administered from October through January or February, with the bulk given in November. However, this year is different. Vaccine manufacturers and providers have attempted to make seasonal flu vaccine available earlier than usual so that when vaccine for the Novel H1N1 virus arrives, now expected to be by mid-October, the public and the health care system can focus on getting the H1N1 vaccinations.