2008-11-07 / Columnists

SJEH Wellness Corner

Commentary By Karen Muir, PharmD

Ifluenza is an acute respiratory illness caused by influenza A or B viruses which occur in outbreaks and epidemics worldwide, primarily during the winter. Signs and symptoms of upper respiratory tract involvement are present, along with indications of systemic illness such as fever, headache, myalgia or muscle pain, and weakness.

There are three types of influenza:

Type A, the most common flu, responsible for regular outbreaks;

Type B which causes sporadic outbreaks especially in residential communities like nursing homes; and,

Type C which causes only mild illness.

Protecting You and Your Family from the Flu:

The best way to protect yourself from influenza is to receive an annual influenza vaccine. A flu vaccine uses an inactivated virus that cannot cause infection but, instead, causes the body to produce antibodies. The vaccine is based on one or two strains of the flu viruses that are common that year. Flu viruses change over time, which is the reason why a new shot is required annually. You should get vaccinated six to eight weeks before flu season begins to give your body time to acquire immunity.

Those who should be vaccinated include the following:

Children from six months old to18 years old and adults more than 50 years old;

Residents of nursing homes and other chronic care facilities;

Adults and children with chronic pulmonary or cardiovascular disorders;

Patients with diabetes, renal and hepatic diseases, immunosuppression, hematologic disorders, and neuromuscular disorders;

Women who are pregnant during flu season; and,

Healthcare workers involved in direct patient care.

Reasons why you should not receive the flu vaccine include:

Hypersensitivity to influenza virus vaccine;

Presence of acute respiratory disease;

Active infections or febrile illnesses;

Active neurological disorder;

For nasal spray, children two to 17 years old receiving aspirin therapy.

There are drugs that, taken with the flu vaccine, may cause adverse effects. The flu nasal spray vaccine may cause Reyes Syndrome in children taking aspirin. Immunosuppressive agents and influenza antiviral agents may decrease the effect of flu vaccine. The live virus vaccine may diminish the diagnostic effect of a tuberculin test.

Possible Side Effects:

After administration of the flu vaccine you may experience, for one to two days, soreness and swelling where the shot was administered or fever and aches. Please notify your prescriber immediately if these effects continue or are severe, or if a high fever, seizures, or allergic reactions occur.

If you experience any adverse events from the influenza vaccine, please contact the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services at 800-822-7967, calling locally at 212-676-2288 or by email at www.vaers,hhs,gov.

Additional information may also be obtained by calling the New York City Department of Health's toll-free flu vaccination information line at 311.

Flu shots are usually given at doctors' offices. health departments in fall and winter, and sometimes at local drug stores. Flu shots, along with a medical examination, may be obtained at the Ambulatory Care Center at St. John's Episcopal Hospital by calling for an appointment at 718-869-7690. The Ambulatory Care Center accepts most insurances. Karen Muir is a pharmacist at St. John's Episcopal Hospital.

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