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The Flu Bug
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Photo: Dawn Allynn
As winter approaches, friends and family get together, traveling near and far for the holiday season. But beware; those around you may be bearing more than just gifts. This time of year isn’t only known as the holiday season—it’s also known as the flu season.

The flu, or influenza, is caused by a virus belonging to two families, type A and type B, and more frequently occurs in winter months.

Often infections, such as the common cold, are sometimes mislabeled as the flu. However, the flu has unique symptoms. People infected with the influenza virus feel sick with symptoms coming on suddenly—high fever, chills, aching of the eyes, dizziness, body aches, sore throat, and possibly a dry, persistent, hacking cough. Symptoms such as a runny nose, nasal congestion and sneezing do not usually occur with the flu.

The virus is very easily spread from person to person by direct contact, respiratory droplets through the air, and objects contaminated with secretions from the nose and throat of an infected person. Once you become exposed to the virus, it takes one to three days before you also become infected. It is possible for a person to spread the virus to others beginning 24 hours before the symptoms occur.

The highest incidence of influenza occurs in infants and children five to 14 years of age. Influenza is usually a relatively mild disease in this age group and has a good prognosis.

However, children with influenza easily spread the disease to other family members. Ill adults usually experience more serious symptoms. Aged adults and people with chronic illnesses, especially those affecting the lungs, are at higher risk of having serious illness or even death from the flu.

Data has also shown that even in children there is the possibility of complications, such as ear infections. Children with chronic lung or heart disorders, chronic metabolic disease, and other chronic illnesses are at higher risk of hospitalization and even death from influenza.

The Most Effective Preventive Tool

After talking about these dangers, what can we do to prevent getting the flu? The most effective preventive tool is through vaccination. There are two types of influenza vaccines. Inactivated vaccine (the common flu shot) contains killed viruses and is given by injection into the muscle. Once injected, the body produces antibodies to fight the influenza viruses. This vaccine is approved for used in persons from age six months and upward and can be given to healthy individuals and those with chronic medical conditions.

The second, newer vaccine is given through a spray into both nostrils of the nose. This intranasal vaccine contains weakened live influenza viruses. These weakened viruses are still able to multiply in the body, but they are not able to produce the disease symptoms. In response to this vaccine, the body produces a different type of antibodies in the mucosal lining of the nose and throat. The nasal live vaccine is approved for use only among healthy persons ages five to 49 years.

Because of the safety and effectiveness of the inactivated vaccine and the high incidence of influenza in infants and children, the vaccine has been included in the recommended childhood immunization schedule, given between the ages of six and 36 months. It is recommended that older children and adults receive a yearly influenza vaccine—the “flu shot.”

Be prepared this season, and make sure you spread nothing more than warm tidings of good joy!

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By Dynnette Hart, DrPH, RN. Reprinted with permission from the Pacific Union Recorder, November 2006. Copyright © 2005 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.


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