Hylton I Lightman, MD DCH(SA), FAAP

A dreaded time of the year has arrived.

Total Family Care diagnosed its first documented case of influenza for the 2018-2018 flu season this past Sunday, October 7th, 2018.

It’s early in the season (generally, the flu is more likely to be diagnosed between the end of December through the middle of March) but it’s not surprising because the last several flu seasons have been filled with surprises.

Yet it’s no surprise (but still a wonder) that despite the education disseminated through social media and other means (like this article) and the fact that over 80,000 people died from the flu last year (the flu is highly contagious and causes hundreds of thousands hospitalizations annually), there’s still resistance to getting the flu vaccine.

Two facts that should make you stampede to your pediatrician’s office to make sure your children get that vaccine:

  1. 2017-2018 flu season, 180 children in the United States died from influenza infections or complications from the infection
  2. 80% of those children who died did NOT get a flu shot

So here it goes – giving it my “best shot” to make sure that as many people as possible receive the flu vaccine.

What is the flu?

The influenza virus affects the lung, nose and throat.  It can spread from exposure to a contaminated surface, airborne respiratory droplets (when an infected person coughs or sneezes), through saliva, or even skin to skin contact.

Early symptoms of the flu include:

Sudden or excessive fatigue:   An overall feeling of tiredness or lack of energy.  It differs from feeling drowsy or sleepy because when fatigued, you lack motivation and energy.  Fatigue in relation to the flu will go with other symptoms.  Read further.

Body aches and chills:  Body aches are a common symptom of many conditions.  They can also be caused by everyday life.  We are talking here about body aches in combination with other symptoms or persisting body aches.

Cough:  A cough is a common reflex action that clears the throat of mucus or foreign irritants.  Again, the cough is combined with other symptoms.

Sore throat:  This is a painful, dry or scratchy feeling in the throat.  A sore throat is so common that it accounts for more than 13 million visits to doctors annually.  Although sore throats are uncomfortable, most go away on their own.  Again, regarding the flu, the sore throat accompanies other symptoms.

Fever:  A fever is an elevated temperature and can affect both children and adults.  A short-term increase in body temperature can help the body to fight off illness.  A severe fever can be a symptom of something more serious that requires immediate medical attention.  In relation to the flu, the flu accompanies other symptoms.

If you begin to sneeze, cough and become congested, you might wonder whether you have the common cold or the flu.  Both care contagious viral infections so it’s easy to confuse the two.

It’s also easy to think that if you have gotten the flu vaccine, you are protected against the common cold and other viruses.  Untrue.  Sorry.

Why should people get vaccinated? 

As stated above, the flu is a potentially serious disease that can lead to hospitalizations and sometimes, G-d forbid, death.  Each flu season has its own nuances but these facts remain consistent.  Studies demonstrate that the annual flu vaccine is the best way to help protect a person against the flu.  The flu vaccine reduces the risk of flu illnesses and even the risk of flu-related death in children.  This holds true for the general population by 40-60%.    

Another reason to be vaccinated is that if you do get sick with the flu, your symptoms may be milder and mitigated if you have gotten the vaccination.  There is a lower risk of influenza-related complications of hospitalizations in at risk groups such as older adults, pregnant women and their infants, children and people with chronic conditions such as diabetes, chronic lung disease and cardiovascular disease.

Read through the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  The facts are there.

Further, when you protect yourself from the flu through vaccination, you are also protecting those who cannot get vaccinated from catching the flu.  This includes those who are too young to get vaccinated, meaning babies under six months of age.

How does the flu vaccine work?

The flu vaccine prompts your body to prepare to fight an infection from the flu virus.  It helps your body to create antibodies to fight against the virus when you are exposed to it.  Think of the antibodies as sledgehammers that fight against the flu virus from developing into something lethal.

The seasonal flu vaccine is developed based on research indicating the strains that will be most common for that influenza season.  Researchers “tweak” the vaccine each season, choosing the strains based on the ones they think are most likely to show up that year.

We are light years ahead of what happened during the Spanish Flu of 1918.

There’s a misconception that the flu vaccine causes the flu.  Rubbish.

Another misconception is that getting the flu vaccine will make you more likely to get the flu.  More rubbish.

It does take up to two weeks for the vaccine to start working once it’s been given.  Some people get the vaccine and then catch the flu virus before their bodies are ready to fight it.  The bottom line:  Even when getting the flu vaccine, you can still get sick but your illness will likely be milder than if you don’t get the vaccine.

What do you do if you get sick with the flu? 

Most people who will get sick with the flu will have mild illness and will not need medical care or antiviral drugs.  They will recover in less than two weeks.

Unfortunately, some people will have flu complications that can result in hospitalization.  Examples of flu-related complication include pneumonia, bronchitis, sinusitis, and ear infections.  Flu can also worsen chronic health conditions.

Among the people at risk of developing flu complications are children younger than 5 years of age and especially children younger than two years old.  Please contact your pediatrician’s office to schedule flu vaccines.  If your child has the symptoms in any combination listed above, it’s imperative that you reach out to your pediatrician who will guide you through the next steps.

An interesting historical “aside” about the flu

Soon after the end of World War I during which 20 million soldiers and civilians lost their lives, the “Spanish Flu” pandemic struck.  Nearly 100 million people lost their lives to this flu which, despite its name, did not originate in Spain.  The H3N2 virus that sat at the heart of this flu was vicious and excelled at mutating.  Coupled with the post-World War I timing when people were weak and malnourished, it devastated populations.  The hugest mortality rates were among, not surprisingly, soldiers.  Medical services were already challenged.  Conditions were unsanitary.  Of course, then, the influenza infection went rampant.

Epidemiologists are expecting another pandemic in the near future.

The good news:  Medical knowledge and technology is light years ahead now than it was a century ago.

And as “imperfect” as the flu vaccine may be, it still is our best line of defense.

Another flu prevention tip – Wash Your Hands

Click the Reminder Below to See Videos and Tips from Dr. Lightman on Instagram

When your children come home from school, no matter what their ages, they should wash their hands.  Get the portable hand sanitizers and attach them to their knapsacks, encouraging them to use it during the school day when necessary.  Don’t share drinks or food.

And after all the hishtadlus is done…As always, daven.

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