Dr. John K. Lee, a family medicine physician with South Sixth Medical Associates in Springfield, Ill., answered the following questions about how you can protect yourself from the flu.
A new strain of H1N1 infected a boy in Indiana and a girl in Pennsylvania in early September. Dr. John K. Lee, a family medicine physician with South Sixth Medical Associates in Springfield, Ill., answered the following questions about how you can protect yourself from the flu.
Q. What are the dangers from this new strain for people?
A. The dangers are that the current flu vaccine for 2011 does not protect us against them. But it's important to keep in mind that these strains have not turned into a pandemic like H1N1. These were controlled, isolated cases that didn't expand to the level of other flu outbreaks. The children who were infected have fully recovered. Also, while the current flu vaccine doesn't contain protection against these strains, the medications for the flu (oseltamivir and zanamivir) can treat people who are infected.
Q. What are the different flu vaccinations available?
A. There is the standard inactivated flu vaccine, which is not a live vaccine. It contains a killed virus and is given by injection. It's used in those who are 6 months old and older. It's recommended that those who have chronic illnesses, such as diabetes or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, use this form. But anyone can receive this flu shot, whether you're healthy or suffer from a chronic disease.
There's also a live attenuated vaccine, which can be taken in a nasal spray form. Because it's a live virus, it's not recommended for those with chronic conditions. It's also not recommended for those who are pregnant or for health care providers who deal with immuno-compromised patients. The age range for this vaccine is from 2 to 49 years old.
Q. What does the flu vaccination protect you from, and does the current vaccination protect you from H1N1 or the "swine flu"?
A.The current flu for this year will provide immunity toward three influenza viruses: an influenza A (H1N1) virus, an influenza A (H3N2) virus and an influenza B virus. Researchers believe these are the most common viruses infecting people during flu season.
Q. What are the recommendations for older adults when it comes to flu vaccinations?
A Everyone should get a flu vaccine yearly. But most important, people (who should certainly get a flu vaccine include those) who are 50 years and up, have a medical condition, such as asthma or diabetes, are nursing home residents, are pregnant, are health care providers or who live with children who are 6 months of age or less or live with someone who is high risk for flu complications.
Q. What are the recommendations for children?
A. Children should receive the vaccine as early as 6 months of age. It's split into two doses until 35 months of age. Children less than 9 years old who never received the H1N1 last season should get two doses of the flu shot this year.
Q. When should one get a flu vaccination?
A. As soon as the flu vaccine is available, which is in September. The sooner the patient gets the shot, the better because it takes roughly two weeks for us to develop antibodies to the influenza virus. Flu season can start as early as October, reach its climax in January or later and last all the way untill May.
Q. What are symptoms of the flu?
A. Fatigue, muscle aches, nasal congestion or runny nose, cough, possibly fever, sore throat, headaches, possible diarrhea. More serious complications that could develop include sinus infection, ear infection, pneumonia, dehydration, even death. The latter problems can especially happen in those with chronic conditions (diabetes, COPD, heart problems and so on).
Q. When should you seek a physician?
A. When patients start having any of the symptoms above, it's good to get checked out by their primary care physician, especially if you have a child, are elderly, have a chronic condition or are pregnant.
It's very difficult to distinguish the flu from other infections on the basis of symptoms alone. A doctor's exam may be needed to tell whether you have developed the flu or a complication of the flu. There are tests that can determine if you have the flu as long you're tested within the first two or three days of illness.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
John K. Lee, M.D., is a family medicine physician at South Sixth Medical Associates, part of Memorial Physician Services.
-- Be Healthy Springfield (Ill.)