Take a shot at avoiding the Flu

By Jeannie Lancaster, Reporter-Herald Staff Writer

It’s that time of year again. The kids are back in school. The leaves will soon be changing, and before we know it, flu season will be upon us.

But instead of just sitting back and dreading its advance, there is something one can do to take action — get the shot.

Flu vaccinations are now available in most doctor’s offices, pharmacies and public health agencies.

Understanding the importance of flu vaccination, Northern Colorado Rehabilitation Hospital in conjunction with Northern Colorado Long Term Acute Hospital is offering a limited number of free flu shots to local residents on Tuesday, Sept. 20, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Participants must be 18 years of age or older.

Free vaccinations will be limited to the first 180 registrants. Registration will be taken through Sept. 18. To schedule a vaccination time, call 970-619-3400.

“We do this yearly,” said Kristin Klipp, marketing coordinator for the two hospitals. “We’re really hoping to fill those spots this year. We give to the community by keeping the community well.”

Dr. Nathan Swartz, staff physician at the two hospitals, noted that the reasons for individuals to get a flu shot are two-fold. “First, to prevent them from getting the flu virus, but also to prevent them from spreading it to those who are at risk for developing complications from the flu. This includes older individuals, the young, those who are immune compromised and individuals with multiple medical problems.”

The Larimer County website notes that, “Every year an estimated 20,000 children younger than 5 years old are hospitalized from flu complications like pneumonia.”

Swartz, Larimer County and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) all stress the importance of those 6 months and older getting the vaccination. Some children may require two doses of the vaccine.

The CDC also recommends that, “This season, only injectable flu vaccines (flu shots) should be used. Some flu shots protect against three flu viruses and some protect against four flu viruses.”

In a change from past years, the CDC is recommending that the nasal spray flu vaccine (live attenuated influenza vaccine or LAIV) not be used during the 2016-17 influenza season, “because of concerns about this vaccine’s effectiveness.”

Is there a chance you may still get the flu, even if you have had the vaccination? Yes. It takes two weeks after the shot for the body to build up the antibodies that provide protection. If you are exposed before or during that two weeks, you can still get the flu. Also, you may be exposed to a flu virus that is not covered by the vaccine. Extensive research goes into choosing which viruses to target, but the CDC points out, “Flu vaccination is not a perfect tool, but it is the best way to protect against flu infection.”

There is often confusion about what the flu really is. One thing that can add to the confusion is that, “the flu can affect different people in different ways,” said Swartz.

“‘Stomach flu’ is a popular term for stomach or intestinal disease, whereas the flu is a respiratory (lung) disease,” wrote the CDC. “People who have the flu often feel some or all of these symptoms: fever, headache, extreme tiredness, dry cough, sore throat and muscle aches. Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea also can occur with flu, but are more common in children than adults.”

If you do suspect you have the flu, especially if you are at high risk for complications from the flu, check with your health care provider. He/she may run a test to determine if you truly do have the flu. If so, an antiviral drug may be prescribed. The CDC noted that these drugs work best if they are started within two days of getting sick.

Getting a flu vaccination is the most important step you can take to prevent yourself from getting the disease. To help prevent spreading the disease, if you are ill, stay away from sick people and those who are at high risk for complications such as babies under 6 months of age, who cannot receive the vaccination. If you have the flu, stay home from work and school.

It’s impossible to predict what this flu season will be like, but a few headlines from last year’s flu season provide a powerful insight into the impact the flu has had previously in Northern Colorado. Among them: “Severe Flu Season Hits Elderly Hard in Larimer County,” “Colorado in Grip of Widespread Flu Outbreak” and “Larimer County’s Young Hit Hard by Flu.”

Photo credit: Medical assistant Lindsay Cooper gives Jaxon Cabrera of Loveland a flu shot at the Banner Medical Clinic in this file photo from January 2013. (Jenny Sparks / Loveland Reporter-Herald file photo)