Fall is Flu Time
By Caroline Trowbridge, Lawrence Memorial Hospital
The height of flu season’s around the corner. But it’s not too late to get a flu shot.
Christopher Penn, MD
Where to get the vaccine
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advocates that everyone 6 months old and older should get an annual flu vaccine, which is available at your physician’s office and local pharmacies. The Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department, 200 Maine Street, offers flu shots on a walk-in basis during clinic hours (see below). No appointment is necessary. The Health Department accepts private insurance, Medicare Part B, Medicaid and KanCare insurance plans.
The flu shot is:
- $28 for children ages 6 months to 35 months.
- $20 for children ages 6 months to 18 years, who qualify for the Vaccines for Children program. To qualify, children must meet one of these criteria: Medicaid eligible, uninsured, American Indian or Alaska native or underinsured.
- $35 for people 3 years and older.
- $62 for the high-dose vaccine for people 65 and older.
- Monday: 10 a.m. - 7 p.m.
- Tuesday, Thursday, Friday: 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
- Wednesday: 10 a.m. - 6 p.m.
“We will give it anytime during the season,” said Dr. Christopher Penn of Internal Medicine Group, 4525 West Sixth Street. “It’s not too late, up until the time we really seeing cases of the flu tapering off.”
It takes about two weeks for the immunization to reach its full effectiveness, according to Dr. Penn, who also chairs Lawrence Memorial Hospital’s Infection, Prevention and Control Committee.
The current number of flu cases reported in Kansas and many other states is minimal, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But once we begin the holiday travel season in earnest, that likely will change. So expect an uptick in flu cases after Thanksgiving, with the peak between December and February.
Although that’s the usual pattern of flu cases in the United States, sometimes the virus surprises physicians certified in infection prevention such as Dr. Penn. Several years ago, flu cases broke out locally in September.
“It came before we had even started the vaccines,” Dr. Penn said. “That was very impressive.”
In addition to getting a flu shot, Dr. Penn and other healthcare professionals say washing your hands can help prevent the flu. “Be aware of everything that you touch,” Dr. Penn said. “And if you are sick, I think you should stay home from work or school.”
He also suggests staying hydrated, which is great advice to avoid the flu, which can be dangerous for very young people, the elderly and people whose immune systems are compromised. But even healthy people are at risk of developing a severe and potentially fatal bacterial infection as a result of the flu, Dr. Penn said.
“Flu is a viral infection, and viruses can affect other organs besides the lungs,” he said.
If you suspect you have the flu, you’ll likely have a sore throat, substantial body aches, a headache, a fever and a cough.
“There’s nothing specific, other than the severity of the illness is greater than what I would expect from a common cold,” Dr. Penn said.
He recommends that you call your healthcare provider, who likely will recommend taking acetaminophen to bring your fever down and drinking plenty of non-alcoholic fluids. Use of antivirals – such Tamiflu or Relenza – can shorten the flu’s duration by a day, Dr. Penn said. The flu usually lasts three to seven days.
Dr. Penn emphasizes that the flu is caused by a virus.
“Antibiotics do not treat the flu,” he said, adding that antibiotics can have side effects, such as diarrhea, and their overuse can lead to development of a resistance to their benefits.
“For viral infections,” he said, “antibiotic medications don’t help – and may make things worse.”
— Caroline Trowbridge is marketing communications manager for Lawrence Memorial Hospital. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.