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Around Our Town...To Your Health

11/01/2004 - Influenza Facts: Cautions and Health Tips

As many of you are aware, there is a shortage of influenza vaccine this year. One of the major manufacturers of the vaccine has had a product recall by the CDC creating a shortage. The availability of the vaccine will be limited this year to high-risk individuals until the vaccine supply is distributed. You will need to contact your physician to see if you qualify as a high-risk individual. At this time, we are vaccinating infants from six months of age to 23 months of age, health care providers, patients with chronic lung disease, and nursing home residents, if able.

It is important to remember that you cannot get influenza from the vaccine. Influenza vaccination may cause symptoms of arm soreness at the injection site, low-grade fever, and muscle aches. The symptoms can be relieved with acetaminophen (Tylenol). The vaccine itself is a killed, inactivated virus of three specific influenza strains identified from the previous year's isolates. It is still possible to get influenza even after vaccination because it takes 10 to 14 days for your immune system to produce the antibodies to the influenza virus. It is these antibodies that decrease your risk of getting the disease. The vaccine is still our best effort in preventing illness and complications of influenza.

If you do catch "the flu", it is possible to treat influenza with antiviral medications. The symptoms of influenza include: fever, cough, runny nose, muscle aches, but not diarrhea. It is a common misperception that influenza causes diarrhea. Influenza is a respiratory illness that can lead to severe pneumonia in the very young and very old. If a patient seeks care within 48 hours of getting influenza, I can use antiviral medications that will not cure it, but they may shorten the duration of the illness. I cannot use the antiviral medications after 48 hours of symptoms, because it is too late to be of any benefit in shortening the course of the illness.

You can decrease your risk of acquiring influenza by taking certain precautions. You can avoid crowded situations and public places when the epidemic reaches your community. Frequent, thorough hand washing and covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze are important measures to reduce your risk of acquiring and spreading infection. Please contact your physician with regards to your own health condition to see if you are a candidate to receive the vaccination. If you suspect that you or your child has influenza, please stay at home or keep your child home from school. This will help to prevent the further spread of the disease to others. It may take 5 to 10 days to recover from influenza, depending on each individual's general health. If you do get influenza, please stay at home, get plenty of rest and drink fluids to stay hydrated. Check with your doctor about medications to help relieve the symptoms of the "flu". If you have influenza, avoid contact with young children, elderly people, persons with lung disease, asthma, immuno-compromised individuals and patients with chronic medical conditions.

Dr. David B. Souvenir is a board certified Infectious Disease Specialist in private practice in Casper.

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