With all the rain this week, I was glad to be house bound for a couple of days because I am ending a monthlong bout with an upper respiratory infection and prefer to cough in the privacy of my own home. This started out as a simple cold, but I don’t ever remember having this much trouble with a URI before. Getting old is the pits indeed!
As we age, we become more susceptible to serious diseases caused by common infections such as the flu or pneumonia. This susceptibility also means that we are more prone to complications. Each year, more than 65,000 American adults die from vaccine-preventable diseases or their complications. Pneumonia and flu (grouped together) are the fifth leading cause of death among older adults. That is the major reason Medicare Part B pays for influenza and pneumococcal shots.
Some adults believe that vaccines they received as children offer protection for their whole lives. Most of the time this is true, but there are exceptions. Some adults never were vaccinated as children and others only received a few vaccinations because not all vaccines were available at that time. While immunity will last for many years, some can begin to fade over time.
Influenza is expected to be just as deadly this year as in the past. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that everyone 3 and older receive immunizations to reduce their chances of catching the flu and its complications.
Parents especially are encouraged to get their children immunized. Children often are at greater risk for contracting the disease because of their close contact with large numbers of other children in school and daycare facilities.
Flu causes fever, cough, sore throat, headache, chills and muscle aches. Most people who get the flu recover fully within one to two weeks. Some people, however, develop serious, life-threatening complications such as pneumonia.
In an average season, influenza kills an estimated 36,000 Americans and puts 200,000 in the hospital.
In the United States, flu season usually occurs from around October through April, but sometimes it’s a bit later in the southern states. Health-care providers recommend that residents get the vaccine in October or November because the season usually peaks between January and March.
No matter when you get it, remember it takes approximately two weeks for your body to build up immunity after receiving the vaccine. If you get the flu in that two-week time frame, understand that it wasn’t caused from the shot. You were exposed to the flu and your body simply couldn’t fight off the infection because it hadn’t had enough time to build up
Most people require one flu shot a year. Children 8 and younger receiving their flu shots for the first time should get two shots — one month apart. Regardless of age, it is necessary to get a flu shot every year. Influenza viruses are known to change often, and this necessitates that the vaccine be updated yearly to cover these changes.
Prevention for flu virues is the same as for other diseases — wash your hands frequently. It also is important to stay away from sick people and remain at home and away from family when you are sick. Hopefully at this point, everyone knows to sneeze in a tissue or in your elbow so you won’t contaminate door knobs and surfaces with your hands.
With seasonal flu, certain people are at high risk of serious complications. This includes people 65 years and older, children younger than 5, pregnant women and people of any age with certain chronic medical conditions. About 70 percent of people who are hospitalized have had one or more medical conditions previously recognized as placing them at high risk of serious seasonal flu-related complications. This includes pregnancy, diabetes, heart disease, asthma and kidney disease.
Pneumococcal disease is another example of a very serious disease that can be prevented through adult immunizations. Remember, pneumonia can cause many complications and result in death. In fact, this disease kills more people in the United States each year than all other vaccine-preventable diseases combined. Treatment of pneumococcal infections has become more difficult, and prevention of the disease through vaccination is even more important. About one out of every 20 people who get pneumococcal pneumonia die from it.
For more information about adult vaccines or to schedule an appointment, call the Liberty County Health Department at 876-2173 or your health-care provider.
Ratcliffe is a consultant to the Coastal Health District. You can call her at 876-6399. Editor’s note: Excerpts from this column originally were published in the Sept. 30, 2009, edition of the Courier.