Flu can be deadly
By Joe Volz / Copley News Service
I never worried much about getting a flu shot until I heard the story of my mother-in-law's bout with flu a few years back.
Eve Polk Bird came down with what she thought was a routine cold a couple of weeks before Christmas. As usual, she doctored herself with ginger ale and extra sleep but she kept getting sicker and sicker. By the time she went to see her doctor, she was extremely ill with what he diagnosed as the Asian flu. There wasn't much the doctor could do to help Eve but he ordered X-rays to make sure she hadn't gotten pneumonia and prescribed cough medicine and something to help her sleep at night. Every year after that episode, Eve got her flu shot as soon as it was available. And so do I.
It's time again for flu shots. And U.S. health officials urge the most vulnerable people to get their flu shots as soon as possible. After announcing that 100 million doses of the flu vaccine would be available between the end of October and mid-November, U.S. health authorities were taken by surprise by an announcement in early October that a British company, manufacturer of half of the U.S. flu vaccine, has been shut down for three months because of concerns over sterility. Chiron Corp.'s suspension means that the 46 million flu shots expected to be shipped to the United States won't be.
The result is that the United States faces a "significant shortage" said Dr. Anthony Fauci, infectious disease chief for the National Institutes of Health.
Instead of a hefty 13-million-dose increase over last year's supply, there won't be enough flu shots for all. It's too early to tell what strain of flu will dominate this season, but Dr. Kevji Fukuda, the chief flu epidemiologist for the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says that the new vaccine appears to be well-matched against the most aggressive Fujian flu strain from last year. The news about what the flu can do to people is sobering. The CDC reports that 36,000 Americans die of influenza each year and 200,000 go to the hospital with complications of flu such as pneumonia. Adults 65 and older account for 90 percent of all deaths and 50 percent of all hospitalizations. Yet, unlike many diseases, "it's a disease that we have the means to prevent," says Dr. Carol Baker of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Along with people older than 65, children younger than 2 years of age are vulnerable to flu and its complications.
An annual shot, which is administered to adults in a single shot and to children younger than age 9 in two doses a month apart provides protection against flu. If someone who's been vaccinated does get the flu, it's usually a milder version.
So who should get flu shots?
Here's what the CDC recommends:
- People 50 and older.
- Any adult with chronic health conditions, such as heart or lung disease.
- Pregnant women or women who are thinking of getting pregnant, especially since the shot offers some protection to babies born during the flu season.
- Anyone who lives with or cares for someone with a high risk of getting flu. This includes the parents and caregivers of toddlers and babies.
Remember, grandparents, if you don't want to get flu shots to protect yourself, there's an added reason: to protect your grandchildren, especially babies younger than 2 years of age, who are at particular risk for complications from flu.
"When you are vaccinated, you not only protect yourself, you protect your loved ones," says Dr. Walter Orenstein, the associate director of the Emory Vaccine Center.
Flu shots are available from a variety of sources - the health department, drug stores and senior centers. Most doctors' offices offer flu shots as a service to their patients. Medicare and Medicaid cover the costs.
I sometimes hear people say that they won't get the flu shots because they get sick from the shots. Well, let's put that old myth to bed. Getting flu shots cannot give you the flu. The shots are made from killed influenza virus. If someone gets flu shortly after receiving the shot, it's nothing but a coincidence. Odds are the person was infected with flu before getting the shot.