Swine Flu was one of the most discussed topics of 2009. Everyone was concerned that it would be the next pandemic that would bring the world to a halt. Fortunately, the worst-case scenario did not come to be. Unfortunately, there will most likely be more discussion and scary stories in the press as flu season begins. One of the things that was often talked about last year was the need for a new vaccine for this “new” flu virus and the fact that people were being encouraged to get both the regular vaccine as well as the new one for swine flu, which eventually came to be called H1N1.
This year, the vaccines will be offered in one shot. The 2010 flu shot will actually protect patients from three different flu viruses; the H3N2, influenza B, and the H1N1 virus. It is important to remember, however, that the flu vaccine is created based on the best guess of health officials as to what strain (or strains) of the flu will be most prevalent this flu season. Getting a flu shot does not guarantee that you won’t get the flu. It does offer the best protection against the most probable flu viruses you may encounter in the coming months. The Centers for Disease Control has a lot of great information about the flu, but it can be overwhelming. Here we will give you some of the key points you will want to remember going into flu season.
Who Needs a Flu Shot?
Everyone over the age of six months, but especially:
- Children younger than two
- Pregnant women
- People with medical conditions that increase their risk of complications
- People living in nursing homes
- People who live or care for those at high risk for flu complications
What are flu symptoms?
- Sore throat
- Stuffy or runny nose
- Body aches
- Diarrhea or vomiting, most common in children
How long am I contagious?
Unfortunately, you were probably contagious before you had any symptoms. The contagious period usually begins about a day before symptoms are present and can last up to seven days after you become sick. A child or someone with an already weakened immune system can be contagious for even longer.
How do I know if the flu is where I am?
Last year, one of the most surprisingly useful tools for finding out where the highest concentrations of flu were present was Google Flu Trends. While it is not a scientific tool, it was found to have accurate results that were available more quickly than the official flu tracking tools provided by the CDC.
As a health professional, it is important that you remain well informed about the myths and realities of the flu and the available flu vaccines so you can pass that information on to your patients. Did you receive a flu shot last year? Will you get one of the 2010 flu shots? Why or why not?