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Don’t give the flu this holiday

Posted 7 December 2016 at 9:11 am

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By Nola Goodrich-Kresse, Public Health Educator/Public Information Officer for Orleans County Public Health

‘Tis the season of gift giving for many…but how many of you want the gift of the flu?

This week is National Influenza (Flu) Immunization Week.  Influenza is a serious disease that causes millions of illnesses, hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations, and thousands or tens of thousands of deaths each year.

Getting vaccinated is the single best way for people to protect not only yourself against flu, but your loved ones too. It is ideal to get vaccinated early in the season (late summer or early fall) as it takes about two weeks after for antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection against the virus.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the current U.S. flu activity is low overall, localized flu outbreaks have been reported and activity is expected to increase in the coming weeks.

“It is important to be aware this 2016-2017 flu season that receiving the nasal spray flu vaccine is not recommended, stated Brenden Bedard, Director of Community Health Services of the Genesee and Orleans County Health Departments. “This recommendation occurred in June by the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices after evaluation of the sprays effectiveness from 2013-2016 was found to be poor or relatively lower.”

How well the flu vaccine works (or its ability to prevent flu illness) can range widely from season to season and can be affected by a number of factors, including characteristics of the person being vaccinated, the similarity between vaccine viruses and circulating viruses, and even which vaccine (a weakened live virus or dead virus) is used.

The CDC conducts studies each year to determine how well the flu vaccine protects against flu illness. While vaccine effectiveness can vary, recent studies show vaccine reduces the risk of flu illness by about 50 to 60 percent among the overall population during seasons when most circulating flu viruses are like the vaccine viruses.

Here are some tips to help you stay healthy and not share this particular “gift” if you become sick with the flu:

• Infants cannot be immunized for influenza until they have reached their 6 month birthday, for example if a baby is born December 1; the earliest he or she can be immunized is June 1.  Flu vaccine is generally available through the spring, so it is still a good idea to have baby immunized late in the flu season for protection through the summer in case of a summer flu season and beginning of the fall season in the event vaccine is delayed.

• Pregnant women and families expecting babies should talk with their primary care providers about getting immunized to protect both the pregnant woman and the newborn baby.

• Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. If a tissue is not available, use your elbow, sleeve or shoulder, not your hands. Throw the tissue in the trash after use, and wash your hands.

• Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds (the time it takes to sing “The A-B-C Song”), especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are also effective. Use caution around children as alcohol-based hand sanitizers can cause alcohol poisoning in children. Wash your hands as soon as soap and water becomes available. Alcohol- based hand sanitizers do not work on visibly dirty/soiled hands and over-use can cause your hands to become dry and crack.

• Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. This is how germs spread infection.

• Avoid close contact with sick people. Keep distances of at least 3 feet from people showing signs of illness.

• If you are sick with flu-like illness, stay home for 7 days after your symptoms (signs) begin or until you have been symptom-free for 24 hours, whichever is longer. This is to keep from infecting others and spreading the virus further.

Stay healthy this winter by protecting yourself and others from unhealthy germs.  For more information about the flu and the vaccine visit www.cdc.gov/flu, talk with your health care provider, or call your local Health Department. (The Orleans County Health Department can be reached at (585) 589-3278 or by clicking here.

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