State health officials say it’s not too late for flu vaccinations

If you haven’t received a flu shot, it is not too late even in December, but don’t delay.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment reports upcoming holiday plans could increase your likelihood of coming in contact with influenza.

The flu season in Kansas usually peaks after the holidays in January.

“The weeks following the winter holidays are typically when we see the height of the cold and flu season in Kansas,” said Howard Rodenberg, director of KDHE’s Division of Health.

“During the holidays many families travel and spend time in crowded places and these are conditions which favor the spread of influenza and other respiratory viruses.”

Vaccine availability

While supplies of flu vaccine have been lower in some areas than others, according to CDC, by the end of November it is expected more than 81 million doses of vaccine will have been distributed throughout the United States.

That is close to the highest amount of vaccine ever available in a flu season.

Flu shots are available through the Marion County Health Department in Marion and most family-practice clinics in the county.

At-risk categories

Certain individuals are at greater risk of complications from the flu and should seek out the available vaccine in their community, if they haven’t already.

The following individuals are considered at high risk:

  • People 65 years and older;
  • People who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities that house those with long-term illnesses;
  • Adults and children 6 months and older with chronic heart or lung conditions, including asthma;
  • Adults and children 6 months and older who needed regular medical care or were in a hospital during the previous year because of a metabolic disease (such as diabetes), chronic kidney disease, or weakened immune system (including immune system problems caused by medicines or by infection with human immunodeficiency virus-HIV/AIDS);
  • Children 6 months to 18 years old who are on long-term aspirin therapy. (Children given aspirin while they have influenza are at risk of Reye syndrome.);
  • Women who will be pregnant during the influenza season;
  • All children 6 to 23 months old;
  • People with any condition that can compromise respiratory function or the handling of respiratory secretions-that is, a condition that makes it hard to breathe or swallow, such as brain injury or disease, spinal cord injuries, seizure disorders, or other nerve or muscle disorders.

    In addition, because nearly one-third of people 50 to 64 years old in the United States have one or more medical conditions that place them at increased risk for serious flu complications, vaccination is also recommended for this age group.

    Finally, any person in close contact with someone in a high-risk group should get vaccinated. This includes all health-care workers, household contacts and out-of-home caregivers of children 6 to 23 months old, and close contacts of people 65 years and older.

KDHE recommendations

KDHE recommends the following:

  • Obtain an influenza shot if you have not already done so this year, particularly if you are more vulnerable for severe complications of influenza.
  • Wash your hands frequently.
  • Cover your cough.
  • Stay home when sick and limit contact with large crowds of people during the height of the flu season.
  • Contact your medical provider first if you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms that you believe require medical attention.

Flu symptoms

If you begin to feel achy and feverish with a dry cough, get plenty of rest, drink plenty of liquids, and use ibuprofen or acetaminophen to reduce fever.

Due to the risk of Reye’s Syndrome, aspirin and other medicines containing salicylate should not be given to children.

Medications are available to reduce the severity and shorten the duration of influenza, but they must be administered within 48 hours of illness onset. They do not cure influenza.

Influenza is a highly contagious respiratory illness, and its symptoms include sudden onset of fever, sore throat, muscle aches, and non-productive cough.

More serious illness can result if pneumonia occurs.

Influenza is spread by direct contact with an infected person or by airborne droplets that produce infection when they are inhaled or ingested off the hands.

Persons are most contagious during the 24 hours before they develop symptoms and are usually still infectious for the next six or seven days.

The incubation period, the time from when the virus enters the body until symptoms appear, is usually one to three days.

Flu symptoms

Treatment for uncomplicated influenza includes bed rest, adequate fluid intake, relief of cough and sore throat symptoms, and ibuprofen or acetaminophen to reduce fever.

Rodenberg noted the flu vaccine is usually around 80 percent effective in preventing illness from influenza virus. This means that it is possible to get influenza after having the vaccine, but even when illness occurs symptoms are usually less severe and complications less frequent.

The vaccine itself cannot cause you to get the flu. It takes at least two weeks to build immunity after getting your shot.

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