2006-10-13 / Columnists

It's My Turn

Commentary By Lynda Lees Adams Communications Director Medical Society Of The State Of NY

Commentary By Lynda Lees Adams
Communications Director Medical Society Of The State Of NY

This information is provided by the Medical Society of the State of New York (MSSNY).

October has been designated as the month to focus on ways to keep the lungs healthy. October is Healthy Lung Month; October 25 is Healthy Lung Day, and October 22-28 is Respiratory Care Week. October is also a good month to schedule a vaccination against this year's influenza viruses. Although some providers still do not have their full quota of vaccine for this year, they will receive it within the next few months in ample time to vaccinate patients before the heavy flu season.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and vaccine suppliers assure the public that there is no shortage of flu vaccine this year, although its distribution is staggered. The Medical Society of the State of New York (MSSNY), therefore, joins the American Lung Association, the American Association for Respiratory Care and the Departments of Health for both New York State and New York City - in urging New Yorkers to schedule a flu shot with your physician, preferably within the next month or two.

This year there are few reasons not to get a flu shot but many reasons not to get the flu. The flu is a highly contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. Every year 5-20 percent of the US population get the flu; 200,000 are hospitalized; and 36,000 die from the flu, 2500 of them in New York.

The best way to avoid getting and spreading the flu is to get a flu shot every year.

Whereas last year a vaccine shortage prevented even many who needed it most from getting a flu shot, this year the CDC has predicted that 100 million doses will be available, enough doses to vaccinate almost everyone who needs and wants to be.

What's more, physicians' offices will have an adequate vaccine supply this year so that those who particularly need the convenience and special care of their doctors - especially the elderly, ill and handicapped - will have easy access to vaccine.

Even those who were vaccinated last year, must be vaccinated (again) this year. Flu vaccine is usually only effective for one year because new strains of the flu virus develop, making it necessary to formulate new vaccines every year that protect against the new viruses.

The lack of a personal physician is not a reason to avoid vaccination either. To find a local physician, just log on to MSSNY's website at www .mssny.org , click on "Doctor Finder" and type in the relevant information. Alternatively, call the local county medical society to obtain a list of local qualified physicians.

Failing to get a flu shot this month or the next is also not a reason not to get one. Even getting one in December or early next year is wise because the heavy flu season usually occurs between January and March, and vaccination two weeks before exposure is sufficient to offer maximum protection.

It is still preferable to get vaccinated as soon as possible, however, to assure not getting the flu before the heavy season and to reduce the number of people spreading it. Also, some people have a special need to get the vaccine earlier than others.

Nor, is a personal history of only suffering mild flu symptoms in the past reason not to be inoculated. This year could be different, and the best way to protect people who can not be vaccinated themselves, is to not expose them to people who have the flu, even mild cases.

Cost should not deter most New Yorkers either. Most health plans cover flu vaccinations for adults, and the Vaccines for Children program assures that all dependent children are covered up to age 19 even if their parents are not insured.

People Who Need Flu Vaccine the Most

The medical society recommends that every New Yorker get a flu shot this year. Nevertheless, it is particularly important for the following to be vaccinated.

People at high risk for complications from the flu:

People age 50 and older (especially those 65 and older);

Children from age 6 months until their 5th birthday (previously 6-23 months);

People in nursing homes and other long-term-care facilities;

Pregnant women and those who may become pregnant within the next year; and

Persons with long-term health problems, such as: Diabetes, lung disease (including asthma), heart disease (not including hypertension), kidney disease, sickle cell anemia, weak immune system (from HIV, cancer treatment, etc.), seizure, neuromuscular, and other disorders that may cause breathing problems, and children 18 and younger on long-term aspirin therapy.

People who will be in close contact with those at high risk:

Caregivers and household members of infants younger than 6 months (Babies this age can get the flu, but are too young for a flu shot);

All close contacts, including household members and caregivers, of high-risk people; and

All healthcare workers.

The Few People Who Should Not Get Flu Shot

Although the flu vaccine is SAFE for the general population and can not cause the flu, the following people should not receive flu vaccine: Children less than 6 months of age (Flu vaccine is not approved for use in this age group.), people who have a severe allergy to chicken eggs, the very few who have had a severe reaction to a flu vaccination in the past, and people with Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS).

More Information Online

More information about influenza in general, and this year's strain in particular, is available on the following websites:

Medical Society of the State of New York ( www.mssny.org ), New York State Department of Health ( http:// www.health.state.ny.us/diseases/communicable/influenza/seasonal/ ), New York City Department of Health and Mental Health ( http://www.nyc.gov/ html/doh/html/hb/dohmhnews5-10.shtml ), and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ( http://www. cdc.gov/flu/keyfacts.htm ).

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