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SALEM COMMUNITY HOSPITAL...Preparing for a new flu season

September 5, 2010
Salem News

Even though fall is just starting, flu season isn't too far away. Many clinics and pharmacies are already receiving their first batches of flu vaccine supplies, since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended that the vaccine be shipped to health care providers as it becomes available.

"For the first time, health authorities are urging nearly everyone to get vaccinated so that they may have full protection for the upcoming flu season," explained Salem Community Hospital's Infection Control Coordinator, Lyn Pethtel, SM(ASCP), RN, CIC. "A record supply of the vaccine is expected, which includes an all-in-one inoculation that provides protection against the H1N1 virus, plus two other kinds of influenza.

"Last year's H1N1 virus caused the first global outbreak as a result of a new flu virus in more than 40 years,"?Pethtel said. "Crowds lined up for hours to receive their H1N1 shots during the 'swine flu' pandemic, when infections peaked well before enough vaccine could be produced. While it's not certain, it is likely that H1N1 viruses will continue to spread again during this 2010-2011 flu season, along with seasonal viruses.

"People can start to take precautions now to protect themselves against this season's flu viruses. The CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine as the first and most important step in protecting against this disease. While there are many different flu viruses, the combined seasonal flu and H1N1 vaccine is designed to protect against the main flu strains that are predicted to cause the most illness during the upcoming flu season."

Flu Vaccine Protection

The 2010-2011 flu vaccine will protect against three different flu viruses: an H3N2 virus, an influenza B virus and the H1N1 virus that caused so much illness last season.

Fact Box

Stop the

spread of germs

- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.

- Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.

- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth to stop the spread of germs.

- Try to avoid close contact with sick people.

- If you are sick with a flulike illness, CDC recommends staying home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone, without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.)

"For the first time, the CDC is recommending vaccination for nearly everyone 6 months and older-not just the medically vulnerable,"?Pethtel said. "Vaccination is particularly important for high-risk groups, including children, those 65 and over, pregnant women, and anyone with an underlying condition that weakens the immune system, such as HIV, asthma, diabetes, or cancer. Since infants 6 months and under can't be vaccinated, their entire family including their caregivers, should get the shot.

"Most people only need one dose of the vaccine. However, children ages 6 months to 9 years old need two doses if they've never been vaccinated against the flu, or if they only received one dose of the H1N1 vaccine last year. These doses are to be given four weeks apart. The first dose primes the immune system, while the second provides immune protection.

"If people are allergic to chicken eggs, which are used to produce the vaccine, or if they have had a reaction to a past flu vaccine, they should talk with their doctor first before getting the shot. Signs of a serious reaction include breathing problems, hives, weakness, a fast heartbeat, and dizziness. If someone is sick with a fever, he or she should wait to get vaccinated until the fever symptoms have subsided."

When Does Flu Season Start?

Influenza cases have already been reported by the CDC, which means that the flu is striking early this year, since the season doesn't officially start until October. Flu activity usually peaks in January, February, and March, and winds down in May.

"The flu is unpredictable, and it's difficult to say with certainty what kind of flu season we will be facing," Pethtel advised. "Although seasonal bouts of flu occur every year, the timing, severity, and length of an epidemic depends on many factors, including what influenza viruses are spreading and whether they match the viruses in the vaccine."

Flu viruses are constantly changing in a process called 'drift.' This means that they can change from one flu season to the next or they can even change within the course of the same season. Experts must choose which viruses to include in the vaccine many months in advance in order for the vaccine to be produced and delivered on time. Because of these factors, there is always the possibility of a less than optimal match between the circulating viruses and the viruses used in the vaccine.

"A person makes antibodies in response to vaccination with one strain of a flu virus, which can also provide protection against different, but related strains," Pethtel concluded. "It takes about two weeks to develop immunity, which then lasts throughout the entire flu season.

"It's important to remember that the flu vaccine contains three virus strains so that even when there is a less than ideal match or lower effectiveness against one virus strain, the vaccine may protect against the other two viruses. For these reasons, the CDC continues to recommend flu vaccination. This is particularly important for people at high risk for serious flu complications and their close contacts.

"In addition to getting a flu shot, people can also take other preventative steps to avoid the flu like staying away from those who are sick, and washing their hands to reduce the spread of germs."



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