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Health Today: Flu prevention

by Kathryn Schat, MD, Department of Family and Geriatric Medicine, UofL Health Care last modified Sep 30, 2010 09:11 AM

(Editor's Note: Health Today is a regular column from health care professionals at UofL that features information ranging from health issues to UofL faculty/staff benefits.)

It seems to patients and physicians alike that the seasonal influenza discussions get more complex and more sensational every year. Several years ago we worried about the Asian Flu. Last year it was the Swine Flu. Major media outlets often confuse what we call "the flu" with many different types of infection including influenza and the common cold. They sometimes accurately describe how influenza virus evolve every year. Then we hear from neighbors, friends, family and people we think "ought to know" about any variety of reports about influenza. Given all of this, it is little wonder that in our daily lives we do not know what is best when it comes to preventing and treating the flu.

As the science of medicine has evolved, we have gained an understanding of how vaccines prevent diseases, and these vaccines have won general acceptance. Governmental oversight has also evolved and along with self-regulation in the medical field there are ample protections that vaccines are safe and effective.

No doubt, there are side effects that present in some cases for every vaccine. In the case of influenza it is the case that a small percentage of the people who receive the vaccine will experience side effects ranging from mild injection site pain to fever and malaise. One major note though — you cannot get the flu from the vaccine. Our vaccines are made from one-half of the virus and purified. Because it is only half of the virus it cannot replicate in your body!

The recommendations are that everyone age six months and older should receive an annual flu vaccine. Also, family members of infants less than 6 months old should receive the vaccine, and all health care workers are advised to receive the vaccination.

In addition, there are several important steps that we should all take to avoid the infection or lessen the severity of the illness should we become sick.

  • Regular hand washing is the primary protection against transmission of the disease.
  • The appropriate amount of sleep is also very important especially since studies indicate that more than 50 percent of Americans are sleep deprived.
  • A good and balanced diet will assure the appropriate amount of nutrients that will also help maintain a good defense against influenza.
  • Finally, regular, moderate exercise will go a long way to strengthening your body's defense.

All of this prevention will not guarantee that you will not be infected. Every year scientists predict the prevalence of influenza strains, and vaccines are manufactured based on these predictions. This year our flu vaccines contain three influenza antigenic variants: Type A H1N1, Type A N3H2 and Type B. However, these predictions are not always accurate. Nonetheless, and as the saying goes, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." We recommend that everyone take precautions against influenza and that all in the recommended groups be vaccinated.

UofL Health Care Centers for Primary Care are available for influenza vaccine and all of your primary care needs. You can reach us at the UofL Health Care Outpatient Center at 401 East Chestnut Street 813-CCCC and Cardinal Station at the corner of Third Street and Central Avenue at 852-LMNO.

Have a healthy season!

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