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One Shot To Fight Flu

by Kirby Lindsay Laney, posted 31 October 2017

 

Flu complications can be prevented, with one shot.  Photo provided by Kaiser Permanente

Flu complications can be prevented, with one shot. Photo provided by Kaiser Permanente

Flu season has begun, and rather than spend days this winter dragging around, infecting others and wishing desperately for happier, healthier days – get one shot, and save yourself and your family days of misery.

According to Dr. Khushboo Mehta, a family physician, “flu becomes the bread and butter,” of her practice every season.  “I see a lot of flu and flu related illness.  We are the point people.”  Dr. Mehta practices at the Kaiser Permanente Redmond Medical Center, and she’s been talking a lot about flu over the last month (including on New Day NW) – doing her best to remind people to get vaccinated against influenza now, before the illness takes hold.  “It’s a very big challenge,” she acknowledged.  Her patients usually respond well to her advice about getting a flu shot, but others, who’ve convinced themselves that they just don’t need it, can be a hard sell.

Yet, last flu season, 2016/17, was one of the deadliest.  According to Centers for Disease Control (CDC) figures, nation-wide we saw a slight decrease in the number of people getting vaccinated, while every year, more than 200,000 people will be hospitalized for seasonal flu complications, including 20,000 children.  In Washington State, over the 2016/17 season, the Department of Health reported 276 flu related deaths, while the CDC reports that only 48.3% of our population got vaccinated, protecting less than half of us from a preventable illness.

Dr. Khushboo Mehta, of Kaiser Permanente, talks flu on New Day Northwest, on KING5.  Photo provided by Kaiser Permanente

Dr. Khushboo Mehta, of Kaiser Permanente, talks flu on New Day Northwest, on KING5. Photo provided by Kaiser Permanente

Remember How Sick You Were?

“The flu is the most common respiratory illness,” Dr. Mehta explained, “it progresses rapidly with quick on-set.”  Flu symptoms are usually more severe than those of a cold, and include fever, fatigue, body aches, chills, sore throat, cough, and sinus distress.  Vomiting and diarrhea can also occur but are more common in children.

From the respiratory system, the flu virus spreads to other parts of the body, and can lead to worse health problems including pneumonia.  Those who already struggle with poor health, including those who smoke, are obese, or run-down and stressed-out, can be hit harder by a flu virus.

When one person has the flu, the virus is spread easily.  Close contact, coughing and sneezing are the most common ways the disease is spread, but people can infect others without knowing they are sick.  “When one person gets the flu, they give it to others,” Dr. Mehta observed simply.  “Most people are contagious a day or two before symptoms appear,” she said, “you can have the flu virus on your desk, in your house, at the store.  It can come through contact with objects.”

Avoid spending days wishing for relief - get a shot to fight the flu.  Photo from Pixabay.com

Avoid spending days wishing for relief – get a shot to fight the flu. Photo from Pixabay.com

Once infected with the flu, the risk of complications increases dramatically, particularly for those with diabetes, asthma, cancer, pregnancy, compromised immunities, etc.  “Flu will not kill you,” Dr. Mehta observed, “but the complications can.”  Even healthy people can develop serious complications, or die, from the flu.

If someone gets a flu shot they still can get a flu, Dr. Mehta explained, but “we see much less complications.”  Someone sick with the flu, but vaccinated against other strains, is much less likely to become seriously ill – significantly less than the person who ignored vaccination offers and decided to face flu season unprotected.

Those who chose not to get protected from the flu risk their own health, and also the health of everyone they meet.  “Protect the people around you,” Dr. Mehta said, “especially those vulnerable.”  Caregivers are encouraged to protect themselves, and people they assist, with a flu shot.  However, anyone who plans to spend any time with friends, co-workers, and/or relatives should consider a flu shot.  Children under six months old cannot receive a vaccination, but the adults around the child can.

With winter comes an increased risk of flu, and flu complications.  It's also time for a flu shot.  Photo from Pixabay.com

With winter comes an increased risk of flu, and flu complications. It’s also time for a flu shot. Photo from Pixabay.com

Myths, And Misinformation

“The flu shot does not give the flu,” Dr. Mehta explained, “it’s a big myth.”  The observations of this coincidence, getting a shot then getting sick, do not add up to science.  “It’s not true at all,” Dr. Mehta insisted.  However, some people have waited too long to be vaccinated (it can take two weeks for the vaccine to take hold) and they contract the flu before they become protected.

“A very small percentage of people would be allergic,” Dr. Mehta acknowledged.  A few people, who live with severe, life-threatening allergies, may need to consult their doctor about vaccine alternatives – and options are available.  Yet, even those with some egg allergies can tolerate the standard vaccination, Dr. Mehta observed.  Consult your family doctor for more information if you live with severe allergies.

Unpredictable, & Conscious Choices

“It’s pretty hard to predict,” Dr. Mehta acknowledged, “the flu strain changes.”  Every year new strains of flu develop, and the vaccine is created to address all the current viruses.  “The vaccine can contain different strains,” she explained.  Scientists work every year to create a vaccine that fights this year’s flu(s).  Even if a strain develops that doesn’t have a vaccine, some protection will still serve better than none.

Protect yourself, and those around you, with a flu shot.  Photo by Pixabay.com

Protect yourself, and those around you, with a flu shot. Photo by Pixabay.com

“We had a very bad flu season in Australia,” Dr. Mehta observed.  Influenza can be around all year, but most outbreaks occur in winter.  Winter just finished in Australia, and their flu season has, in past years, proven an indicator of what we may experience – and Dr. Mehta fears we may be in for a bad flu season here too.

Dr. Mehta has met people who don’t get the flu shot, and has heard their reasons.  ‘I’m not a flu shot person.’  ‘I’m always healthy.’  ‘I’m always careful.’  “They are making a conscious choice,” Dr. Mehta observed.

Yet, Dr. Mehta also observed that a lack of education sits at the root of some of the reasons.  “What is keeping them from getting the shot,” she said, “sometimes it’s not logical.”

Ultimately, she encourages everyone to continue talking and looking at the facts.  “They definitely hear you,” Dr. Mehta said of those who don’t get vaccinated, “they haven’t had to face their near and dear ones,” getting sick and developing otherwise avoidable complications from the flu.

One flu shot, or dozens of remedies, treatments, relievers and desperate measures.  Photo from Pixabay.com and Steve PB

One flu shot, or dozens of remedies, treatments, relievers and desperate measures. Photo from Pixabay.com and Steve PB

Kaiser Permanente, as with many health providers, offers its members free flu shots at its clinics around the region.  Kaiser Permanente clinics offer comprehensive and quality care around the region.  Visit kp.org/wa for more information about consulting a physician about vaccinations.  Or, stop by the Bartell Drugs/Kaiser Permanente Care Clinic on 15th & Market in Ballard to fight the flu with one shot this fall!

 

 


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©2017 Kirby Laney.  This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws.  Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.

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