Influenza (”flu”) is a contagious disease that is caused by the influenza virus, which spreads from person to person through coughing or sneezing. Influenza can lead to pneumonia and can be dangerous for people with heart or breathing conditions. It can cause high fever and seizures in children. Influenza kills about 36,000 people each year in the United States, mostly among the elderly.
Anyone can get influenza. For most people, it lasts only a few days but some people get much sicker. It can cause:
- sore throat
- muscle aches
Influenza vaccine can prevent influenza. It takes about 2 weeks for protection to develop after the vaccination, and protection can last up to a year. Influenza viruses are always changing. Therefore, influenza vaccines are updated every year, and an annual vaccination is recommended. Children younger than 9 years of age getting influenza vaccine for the first time should get 2 doses, given at least one month apart.
Influenza vaccine can be given to people 6 months of age and older. It is recommended for people who are at risk of complications from influenza, and for people who can spread influenza to those at high risk (including all household members):
People at high risk for complications from influenza:
- People 65 years of age and older.
- Residents of long-term care facilities housing persons with chronic medical conditions
- People who have long-term health problems with: heart disease, lung disease, asthma, kidney disease, metabolic disease; such as diabetes, anemia and other blood disorders
- People with certain muscle or nerve disorders (such as seizure disorders or severe cerebral palsy) that can lead to breathing or swallowing problems.
- People with a weakened immune system due to: HIV/AIDS or other diseases affecting the immune system, long-term treatment with drugs such as steroids, and cancer treatment with x-rays or drugs.
- People 6 months to 18 years of age on long-term aspirin treatment (these people could develop Reye Syndrome if they got influenza).
- Women who will be pregnant during influenza season.
- All children 6-59 months of age.
The best time to get influenza vaccine is in October or November. Influenza season usually peaks in February, but it can peak any time from November through May. So getting the vaccine in December, or even later, can be beneficial in most years.
Bacteria or viruses can usually cause pneumonia when they are inhaled into the lungs. Symptoms may take up to one week to appear. Some of these symptoms are fever and/or chills, mucus producing cough, feeling tired and weak; chest wall pain when coughing or breathing in. Treatment for pneumonia usually consist of an antibiotic prescribed by your doctor.
There are certain populations who are more at risk than others. These persons are the very young, adults 65 years and older, people with chronic diseases such as heart and lung disease, HIV infection, diabetes and those with weakened immune systems (caused by medication or by disease).
The best treatment is always prevention. One very important preventive measure is the pneumonia vaccine. This vaccine is helps protect against 23 types of pneumococcal bacteria which can cause pneumonia.
Guilford County Department of Public Health has the pneumonia vaccine. To make an appointment in Greensboro or High Point, call 641-3245.