2007-11-23 / Columnists

It's My Turn

Five Reasons To Get Your Flu Shot This Season
Commentary By Linda Lawrence, M.D., President, American College of Emergency Physicians

Linda Lawrence, M.D., is the President of ACEP, a national medical specialty society representing emergency medicine physicians, with more than 25,000 members.

ACEP is committed to advancing emergency care through continuing education, research and public education. Headquartered in Dallas, Texas, ACEP has 53 chapters representing each state, as well as Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. A Government Services Chapter represents emergency physicians employed by military branches and other government agencies.

Have you been putting off getting your annual flu vaccination? According to the American College of Emergency Physicians, that may not be such a wise idea, especially this year.

"Flu-related symptoms are typically the top five leading causes of emergency department visits every year, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention attributing more than five million visits to 'fever' and 3.3 million visits to 'cough' nationally in 2005," said American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) President Linda Lawrence, M.D., FACEP. "However, we are seeing indicators that suggest this year's flu season may be tougher than in years past, thus giving the American public - particularly vulnerable groups such as the very young, persons with weakened immune systems and the elderly - more than ample reason to get their annual flu shots out of the way early, before the flu season gets fully underway.

"That's why the ACEP is also announcing its support for 'National Influenza Vaccination Week,' Nov. 26 through Dec. 2, 2007, sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and various other partners," she added.

According to Dr. Lawrence, here are the top reasons why getting a flu shot is more important than ever this year:

Australia and New Zealand were hard-hit by the flu this season. The folks down under, whose winter flu season runs during our summer months, experienced their worst influenza season in years, with case reports running 3.4 times above the mean number of cases seen over the last five years. Most flu cases were found to be influenza A (H1), upon which this year's supply of vaccine was formulated.

The flu vaccine is readily available - and FluMist® has been approved for youngsters. Unlike in recent years, when the flu vaccine, for various reasons, was in short supply, this is not the case for 2007. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an ample supply of influenza vaccine exists for everyone and no shortages are expected.

Moreover, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved the use of the nasal influenza vaccine FluMist for healthy children between the ages of 2 and 4 who do not have a history of recurrent wheezing. (This vaccine also may be used for healthy persons ages 5 to 49 who are not pregnant.)

Your chances of coming down with flu complications and other potentially deadly illnesses is reduced. While getting vaccinated against the flu is not a guarantee you won't come down with a cold, pneumonia or such illnesses as methicillinresistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), research shows you are more likely to develop flu complications, pneumonia in particular, along with a whole host of other illnesses, when your immune system is weakened by the flu. This is especially true for the very old and the very young. Moreover, a recent study revealed that getting a flu vaccination reduced the risk of hospitalization because of pneumonia or the flu by 27 percent in the elderly, and cut the death rate in that age range by 50 percent.

Fewer flu-symptom relievers exist for youngsters. Children's cough suppressants and cold medicines have been pulled off the shelves after the FDA advised they not be used in children ages 6 and under, making it tougher for parents to comfort their children when they do get sick.

The holidays are coming. Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's are all times when far-flung family members and friends of all ages reunite, and often in close quarters. So don't put your more vulnerable family members and friends - including ailing grandparents or newborn nieces and nephews - at heightened risk of contracting potentially deadly flu germs by getting vaccinated before you see them.

The CDC recommends that all children ages 6 months to 5 years receive flu vaccinations, and that persons older than age 50, or who have chronic health conditions, also get vaccinated. Although persons may get vaccinated any time during flu season, which typically peaks in March, it's best to get vaccinated early for full protection, because it may take up to two weeks to develop immunity.

In addition to the flu vaccine, the CDC recommends two licensed influenza antiviral agents - oseltamivir and zanamivir - for preventing and treating the flu during the 2007-2008 flu season. (Oseltamivir should not be used in children under age 1, and zanamivir is not approved for treatment of persons under age 7.)

For access to a free or low-cost flu clinic in your area, visit www.flucliniclocator. org. For details regarding National Influenza Vaccination Week, see http:// www. cdc.gov/flu/nivw/index.htm, and for updates from the CDC as flu season progresses, see www.cdc.gov/flu.

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