By Martin Stallone, MD
Instances of flu begin to rise in October and November and influenza-like infections typically peak between December and March. Getting an annual flu vaccine is the best way to protect yourself and your family from the flu. Flu vaccination can reduce flu illnesses, doctors’ visits, and missed work and school due to flu, as well as prevent flu-related hospitalizations.
A test that can confirm a flu infection in less than 15 minutes is available this season from Cayuga Medical Center all day at the main campus and from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. at the Convenient Care locations, 10 Arrowwood Drive, Ithaca, and 1129 Commons Ave., Cortland. A rapid diagnosis may be important for those at high risk of serious flu complications because treatment with an antiviral drug can begin immediately. The medication is effective in reducing flu-like symptoms if treatment begins within two days of getting sick. Antiviral drugs are a second line of defense to treat the flu and are not a substitute for getting a flu vaccine.
What’s new this flu season?
For the second consecutive year, public health experts recommend using only injectable flu shots. The nasal spray flu vaccine should not be used during this season because of concerns about its effectiveness. Two new four-component, or quadrivalent, flu vaccines will be available. A three-component, or trivalent, flu vaccines is also available.
What are the differences in the vaccines?
There are many different flu viruses, and they are constantly changing. The composition of U.S. flu vaccines is reviewed annually and updated as needed to match circulating flu viruses. The three-component trivalent flu vaccine protects against the three flu viruses that are expected to be the most common this flu season. The four-component quadrivalent vaccines provide the same protection as the trivalent flu vaccine, plus protection against a fourth flu virus. The supply of quadrivalent flu vaccines is smaller and may be more expensive than the trivalent vaccine. If you cannot get a quadrivalent vaccine, go ahead and get the trivalent version before flu season begins.
When should I get vaccinated?
You should get a flu vaccine before flu begins spreading in our area in mid to late fall. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body that protect against flu. If you missed getting a flu shot in October, getting vaccinated later can still be beneficial.
Who should be vaccinated?
Everyone six months and older should get a flu vaccine every year. Children 6 months through 8 years getting vaccinated for the first time, and those who have only previously gotten one dose of vaccine, should get two doses of vaccine this season. All children who have previously gotten two doses of vaccine only need one dose of vaccine this season. Children who need two doses of vaccine to be protected should start the vaccination process sooner, because the two doses must be given at least four weeks apart.
If you live with or care for an infant younger than 6 months old, you should get a flu vaccine to help protect them from flu. Everyone else who is around the baby also should be vaccinated. Also, studies have shown that flu vaccination of the mother during pregnancy can protect the baby after birth from flu infection for several months.
What sort of flu season is expected this year?
The U.S. experiences epidemics of seasonal flu each year, but it’s not possible to predict what this flu season will be like. While flu spreads every year, the timing, severity, and length of the season varies from one year to another. The number of flu cases can vary in different parts of the country and from season to season. Flu symptoms can include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. followed by an increase in flu-associated hospitalizations, which is then followed by increases in flu-associated deaths.
How can I protect myself from flu this season?
Getting a flu vaccine for everyone six months of age and older is the first and most important step in protecting against this serious disease. In addition to getting a seasonal flu vaccine, you can take everyday preventive actions like staying away from sick people and washing your hands to reduce the spread of germs.
Where do I get care if I get the flu?
See your doctor who can advise you on treatment. If you need to seek care, go to the Urgent Care at 10 Arrowwood Drive, Ithaca, (607) 274-4150) or 1129 Commons Ave., Cortland, (607) 756-7200. If your symptoms include difficulty breathing, chest pain, severe abdominal pain, confusion, sudden dizziness, severe vomiting or vomiting that won’t stop, go to the nearest hospital emergency room.
Do Cayuga Medical Center or Schuyler have flu prevention programs?
Both hospitals follow New York flu prevention regulations. When New York’s health commissioner determines that influenza is prevalent in the state, unvaccinated health care workers at state hospitals are required to wear surgical or procedure masks while in areas where patients are typically present. State regulations do not require hospital visitors to wear masks, but both Cayuga Medical Center and Schuyler Hospital encourage the use of masks during the flu season and make free masks available to visitors.
Where can I get a flu vaccination?
Flu vaccines are offered by many doctor’s offices, clinics, health departments, pharmacies, and college health centers. For information on flu clinics at the Tompkins County health department, call (607) 274-6616 and the Schuyler County health department at (607) 535-8140 for clinics in that county.
How long does a flu vaccine protect me from getting the flu?
Multiple studies have shown that the body’s immunity to influenza viruses declines over time. When most healthy people with regular immune systems are vaccinated, their bodies produce antibodies and they are protected throughout the flu season. Older people and others with weakened immune systems may not generate the same amount of antibodies after vaccination; further, their antibody levels may drop more quickly when compared to young, healthy people.
Martin Stallone, MD, is board certified in internal medicine. He serves as the Vice President of Physician Operations at Cayuga Medical Center and is also the President of Cayuga Medical Associates, PC. He is the president elect of the CMC medical staff and works clinically as a hospitalist. He also serves as the medical director of the Cayuga Area Physicians (CAP) Clinical Integration Program, offered in collaboration with Cayuga Medical Center. He can be reached at (607) 274-4296.