General Information on Influenza Vaccination

 

 

What is "flu"?
Influenza infection is a disease caused by influenza virus. Influenza virus causes a respiratory illness. Epidemics of influenza usually occur during the winter months and are responsible for approximately 20,000 deaths per year in the United States. The rates of serious illness and death are highest among persons aged > 65 years. Influenza vaccination is generally the best method for preventing influenza.

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What are the symptoms of influenza?
Influenza infection is usually characterized by a sudden onset of fever, severe fatigue, dry cough, sore throat, and runny nose. Most symptoms improve after several days, but severe fatigue and cough may persist for 2-3 weeks. Influenza can lead to secondary bacterial infections, pneumonia, and sometimes death. People with the greatest risk of severe complications from influenza are those > age 65 and those with certain medical conditions. The flu is a respiratory disease, not a stomach or intestinal disease. Influenza does not cause "stomach flu".

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How can I prevent flu?

The best protection against flu is annual vaccination. It also helps to wash your hands frequently (at least 20 seconds scrubbing with soap), and avoid touching your nose, eyes and mouth.

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Immunization for the 2003-2004 influenza season
Although delays in vaccine distribution occurred during 2000-2001 and 2001-2002 flu seasons, delays are not expected for the 2003-2004 season (as of August 2003). Immunization with the 2003-2004 vaccine should protect against 3 strains of virus (Influenza Type A New Caledonia/20/99 (HINI), Type A/ Panama/2007/99, Type B Hong Kong/330/2001).

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Who should receive a flu shot and when?
Persons considered to be at high risk should receive their flu shot in October. High risk individuals include anyone age 65 or older, adults or children with chronic health conditions, women who will be more than 3 months pregnant during the flu season, and care-givers who can give flu to someone at high risk. Healthy people of other ages should receive the vaccine in November. It may not be advisable for some people to receive a flu shot -- persons with egg allergies, those who have had a severe reaction to flu vaccine in the past, or those are ill with a high fever should talk to their health care provider before receiving the vaccine.

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Flu diagnosis and medications available

Several laboratory methods can be used to diagnose influenza. Usually a nasal or throat swab is collected and sent to the lab. Some of the newer tests available can detect virus within 30 minutes whereas other tests may take days to weeks to confirm influenza infection. Four antiviral medications (amantidine, rimantadine, zanamivir, oseltamivir) are available by prescription in the U.S. These medications may shorten the duration of infection, but need to be taken on the first or second day of illness.

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