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more articles by Klepack, William A , MD  |  author's bio

Be Flu Safe

Be Flu Safe!

by William Klepack, MD


The latest surveillance map of flu activity in New York State shows confirmed reports of influenza in Nassau and Suffolk counties. Such reports are not unusual this time of year. Flu has been known to appear in our area as early as December and to still be a problem as late as March.


If you have not gotten a flu shot yet, the time is right for doing so now: you still have time to develop immunity before flu season arrives in Upstate New York. The vaccination comes in two forms: injection or nasal spray (for people between two and 49 years of age, who are not pregnant).


Where can I get a flu shot?


The flu vaccine is in plentiful supply this year. You can get a flu shot from your own physician, or you can arrange for a flu shot at the Tompkins County Health Department by calling the flu hotline at 274-6609. You might also inquire about flu shot clinics at commercial outlets (such as pharmacies or grocery stores), or at your place of work.


Who should get flu shots?


The Centers for Disease Control recommend that all children from six months to 18 years of age and all adults receive flu shots. It’s especially important for people at higher risk for complications from the flu, including pregnant women, people older than 50, anyone with chronic medical conditions, and residents in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. Everyone working with populations at high risk (health-care workers and other caregivers) should also get vaccinated every year.


We can protect infants less than six months old by vaccinating the people around them, by practicing thorough, frequent hand washing, and by covering coughs. The best way to cover coughs is to cough into your sleeve, rather than into your hand.


Is the flu really all that serious?


Every year the flu leads to 200,000 hospitalizations and about 36,00 deaths in the United States. Younger children with chronic illness such as cystic fibrosis, asthma, diabetes, cerebral palsy, or kidney disease can become seriously ill (and succumb) to the flu.


Won’t last year’s flu shot protect me this year?


Our best chance for avoiding the flu comes from getting vaccinated annually. The prevailing strains of flu virus change each year, so last year’s vaccination will not protect you. This year’s flu vaccine contains three completely new strains of the virus, based on what we saw developing in Asia and the southern hemisphere earlier this year.


How does the flu spread?


For a full day before you actually start to feel sick, you can pass the flu virus on to people around you. Flu spreads from person to person through coughing, sneezing, and even by touching something with flu viruses on it and then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes. This is why hand washing is so important.


What if I get the flu?


Stay home from work or school if you develop flu symptoms, so as not to spread the illness. Flu symptoms include fever, headache, extreme tiredness, dry cough and sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, and muscle aches. See your doctor right away because antiviral drugs can make your illness milder and the duration shorter. These drugs work best, however, if started within two days of the onset of symptoms.


Dr. Klepack is the medical director of the Tompkins County Health Department. He is board certified in family practice, serves on the medical staff of Cayuga Medical Center, and is in practice with Dryden Family Medicine.


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