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home : health : health May 26, 2016

11/1/2011 1:55:00 PM
'Tis the season. Should you get a flu shot?
Who is most at risk from the flu?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention list several populations as being especially at risk from influenza and urge them to get a flu shot.

• Children younger than 5, but especially children younger than 2 years old

• Adults 65 years of age and older

• Pregnant women

• American Indians and Alaskan Natives seemed to be at higher risk of flu complications last flu season

• People who have medical conditions including:

- Asthma (even if it's controlled or mild)

- Neurological and neurodevelopmental conditions [including disorders of the brain, spinal cord, peripheral nerve, and muscle such as cerebral palsy, epilepsy (seizure disorders), stroke, intellectual disability (mental retardation), moderate to severe developmental delay, muscular dystrophy, or spinal cord injury]

- Chronic lung disease (such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease [COPD] and cystic fibrosis)

- Heart disease (such as congenital heart disease, congestive heart failure and coronary artery disease)

- Blood disorders (such as sickle cell disease)

- Endocrine disorders (such as diabetes mellitus)

- Kidney disorders

- Liver disorders

- Metabolic disorders (such as inherited metabolic disorders and mitochondrial disorders)

- Weakened immune system due to disease or medication (such as people with HIV or AIDS, or cancer, or those on chronic steroids)

• People younger than 19 years of age who are receiving long-term aspirin therapy

• People who are morbidly obese (Body Mass Index of 40 or greater)

• People who live with or care for those at high risk for complications from flu should also get vaccinated, including household contacts and out-of-home caregivers of children less than 6 months of age (these children are too young to be vaccinated).

As the flu season approaches, folks in Sisters have to make a decision: should I get a flu shot?

A report last month from The Lancet put a point on the question as it revealed that the flu shot is less effective than previously believed in preventing the virus from striking.

The authors of the study, looking back over published research, found the vaccines were effective in preventing flu in eight of 12 flu seasons and had a combined efficacy of 59 percent against flu in healthy adults. In some seasons, the efficacy rate drops to 16 percent; in others it's over 70 percent.

The efficacy may be lower than previously believed, but as lead author Michael Osterholm told the Wall Street Journal Health Blog, "Fifty-nine percent is a lot better than zero."

The hit-or-miss nature of the flu shot is not really news at all. Creating the annual flu vaccine is a bit of a guessing game, as vaccine makers try to anticipate which strain of flu they'll be contending with in a given year.

"That's always been the challenge - choosing the right strain of antigens," said Dr. Steven Greer of St. Charles Family Health Clinic in Sisters.

Dr. Greer continues to advocate the use of the flu shot.

"Even if it's not perfect, it's the best we have to offer," he told The Nugget.

Dr. May Fan of Bend Memorial Clinic strongly urges patients to get the flu shot.

"I still think everybody should get the flu shot anyway," she said. "I'm a big proponent of them.... I advise everybody who does not have a specific contraindication to be getting it."

Influenza - not the achy, sniffly crud we often call "the flu" - can be very serious business. Those with chronic conditions that compromise their health are especially vulnerable to what can be a fatal illness. And some strains, like the pandemic "Spanish Flu" that scourged the world in 1918, can strike down even the healthy and robust in the millions.

It's not something to take lightly.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines state that "everyone six months and older should get a flu vaccine each year... While everyone should get a flu vaccine each flu season, it's especially important that certain people get vaccinated either because they are at high risk of having serious flu-related complications or because they live with or care for people at high risk for developing flu-related complications."

"Anybody with chronic illness of any age should be immunized," Dr. Greer says.

Dr. Greer also urges people who work in "high flow" environments" - such as retail jobs or service-industry jobs where they come into contact with lots of people -to get the flu shot.

Dr. Fan notes that the shot is especially important for caregivers to infants under six months.

While Dr. Fan notes that "Really, the influenza vaccine is one of the least controversial practices in medicine," there is some resistance to the use of vaccinations in general among some of the American public. Critics cite concerns about potential side-effects and the use of certain preservatives like thiomersal (the 2011-12 single-dose flu vaccine does not contain thiomersal).

"There's always been a backlash on immunization and part of that is that there's always been some side effects from immunization," Dr. Greer said. "But you don't have to go back very far to see the value of immunization."

He noted that diseases that used to devastate lives - smallpox and polio, for example - have been eliminated through vaccination. And, he says, vaccines are safer now than they have ever been, with adverse reactions greatly reduced.

Regardless of immunization, it pays to do everything you can to avoid catching the flu. Avoid contact with people who have it (and if you contract it, stay home so you don't share).

Dr. Fan offers perhaps the simplest means of warding off the flu: "Wash your hands! Wash your hands!"

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