Archive | November 29, 2017

Make It Your Business to Fight the Flu

By Stacey Gallaway, MD, MPH, of Occupational Health, a Lexington Medical Center physician practice

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the flu costs the United States more than $87 billion annually, and it is responsible for the loss of nearly 17 million workdays each flu season. Tens of thousands of people are hospitalized and thousands die from flu-related illnesses in the United States each year. Infectious disease experts agree that annual influenza vaccination is the best protection against the flu.

Box of tissues and medicine on a wood table (the background is cream pattern wallpaper).

Influenza or “the flu” is a contagious disease that spreads around the United States every year, usually between October and May. Flu is caused by influenza viruses and is spread mainly by coughing, sneezing and being in close contact with others. Anyone can get the flu. It strikes suddenly, and symptoms can be severe, including fever and chills, sore throat, muscle aches, fatigue, cough, headache and runny nose.

Influenza infection is more dangerous for some people. Infants and young children, people 65 years of age and older, pregnant women and people with chronic health conditions or a weakened immune system are at greatest risk for hospitalization and death due to the infection. The CDC recommends annual vaccination for everyone 6 months of age and older. It’s especially important for people at high risk for serious complications, such as those with asthma, heart disease or diabetes. Although the flu is more dangerous for individuals with certain medical conditions, healthy people can become very ill or die from contracting the flu.

There are many different influenza viruses, and they are always changing. Each year, a new flu vaccine is made to protect against the viruses most likely to cause disease in the upcoming flu season. Predicting which viruses will be important in the upcoming flu season is not an exact science. Even when the vaccine is not a perfect match to circulating virus strains, it may still afford some protection against infection or reduce the severity of an infection.

Flu vaccines are manufactured to protect against three or four viruses: H1N1; H3N2; and one or two influenza B viruses. The flu vaccine cannot provide complete protection from an influenza infection caused by a virus not included in the vaccine, and it does not protect against other viral illnesses that have influenza- like symptoms.

This season’s three-component vaccines will contain:
• an A/Michigan/45/2015 (H1N1) pdm09-like virus.
• an A/Hong Kong/4801/2014 (H3N2)-like virus.
• a B/Brisbane/60/2008-like (B/Victoria lineage) virus.
Four-component vaccines will also contain a B/ Phuket/3073/2013-like (B/Yamagata lineage) virus.

Stacey Gallaway, MD, MPH

Routine annual influenza vaccination is recommended for all persons older than 6 months of age. Special emphasis should be placed on vaccination of high-risk groups and their household contacts and caregivers:
• Children age 6 months to 5 years
• Adults 50 years of age and older
• Persons with chronic diseases, such as asthma, diabetes and heart disease
• Persons who have a weakened immune system
• Pregnant women
• Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
• Persons who are extremely obese (body mass index greater than or equal to 40)
• Health care workers
• Caregivers and household contacts of those at high risk

There is no live flu virus in the vaccination, so flu shots cannot cause the flu. This misconception is common because some people may have a sore arm and a low-grade fever or achiness after getting a flu shot. All these side effects are mild, short- lived and easily alleviated with simple measures, such as a cool compress on the arm or an over-the-counter pain reliever. Symptoms related to vaccination side effects are minor compared to the symptoms of an influenza infection.

Employers can play a key role in protecting employees’ health and safety while increasing productivity, reducing absenteeism, lowering health care costs and limiting other negative effects of the flu. Make it your business to fight the flu.