Doctor’s Tip: Influenza can cause lost work and school days and even death — get your flu shot | PostIndependent.com

Doctor’s Tip: Influenza can cause lost work and school days and even death — get your flu shot

Dr. Greg Feinsinger
Doctor’s Tip

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends a flu shot by the end of October for everyone over the age of 6 months. Children under the age of 6 months should not receive flu shots, so it's particularly important that those children's care givers are immunized. Children 6 months and older need two flu shots, four weeks apart — the first one should be given by the end of September. During the 2016-2017 flu season, there were 77 deaths in children in the U.S. that probably would have been prevented had they received flu shots.

Adults need just one shot, and people 65 years and older need an extra-strength shot. The 1918 Spanish flu epidemic resulted in 675,000 American deaths. About 56,000 flu-related deaths occurred in the U.S. during the 2012-2013 flu season. Of lesser concern but still important is that influenza accounts for many days of lost work and school absences.

Influenza is caused by viruses — and viruses do not respond to antibiotics. The most severe forms of flu are influenza A and B, with C being a milder disease. In temperate climates such as ours, flu viruses are usually active during the colder months — late fall, winter and early spring. It takes about two weeks for the shots to "kick in." Flu shots can be obtained in most doctors' offices, in pharmacies and at public health offices. Flu shots are tweaked every year, due to "genetic drift" in the influenza viruses. Allergy to eggs is not a contraindication to getting the shot, although if you have an egg allergy you should mention it to whomever is vaccinating you.

Side effects, other than mild soreness around the injection site for a day or two, are rare. People sometimes say that the flu shot gave them the flu, but that has never been proven to occur. The average adult gets five non-flu viral infections a year such as colds, so out of the millions of flu shots that are given every year some people will coincidentally come down with one of these other viral infections and blame it on the flu shot they just had.

Influenza is highly contagious, and is transmitted by the respiratory route, meaning nasal drainage and droplets expelled by coughing. The incubation period is one to four days. Typical symptoms include fever, chills, malaise (feeling really crummy), generalized aching, chest discomfort, headache, nasal stuffiness, dry cough and sore throat. Elderly patients often present with lassitude and confusion but not the other symptoms. Frequent flu complications include sinus and ear infections, bronchitis and pneumonia (viral and bacterial), with pneumonia usually being the cause of flu-related deaths. When infected by flu and other viruses, young children taking aspirin can develop Reye syndrome, which affects the liver and brain and can lead to death.

Did you know that a timely flu shot can reduce cardiovascular mortality (death from heart attacks and strokes)? Bacterial and viral infections such as influenza can cause inflammation that can trigger rupture of arterial plaque — the cause of heart attacks and strokes. According to Bale and Doneen in their book "Beat the Heart Attack Gene," a large study showed that up to 91,000 Americans die annually from heart attacks and strokes triggered by the flu — these are not included in the statistics noted above for flu-related deaths.

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Rapid flu tests done in doctors' offices are helpful for diagnosis, although false positives and negatives can occur. Remember that flu shots only prevent influenza A and B — not colds or stomach or intestinal flu. They are not 100 percent effective in preventing influenza, but the disease tends to be shorter and milder in people who have been immunized. So be proactive about your health, and get the flu shot if you haven't already.

Dr. Feinsinger, who retired from Glenwood Medical Associates after 42 years as a family physician, has a nonprofit Center For Prevention and Treatment of Disease Through Nutrition. He is available for free consultations about heart attack prevention and other medical issues. Call 970-379-5718 for an appointment. For questions about his columns, email him at gfeinsinger@comcast.net.

Fix It documentary

When: 7-9 p.m. Monday, Oct. 8

Where: Community Room, Glenwood Springs Library, 815 Cooper Ave.

What: FIX IT is a documentary that reaches across the political divide making the case for business leaders’ support of major health care reform. It takes an in-depth look at how our dysfunctional health care system is damaging our economy, suffocating our businesses, discouraging physicians and negatively impacting the nation’s health, while remaining unaffordable for a third of our citizens.

Local physicians will answer audience questions after the 40-min screening.