DECATUR — Thomas Hagan got his flu shot for one simple reason: “Because I hate getting sick.”
Hagan is not alone.
Influenza symptoms — a high fever, runny or stuffy nose, cough, sore throat, along with a headache, muscle aches and fatigue — can be debilitating. Vaccines are recommended for children beginning at 6 months old, as well as those with compromised immune systems and people 65 years old and older.
There's good news this year for parents of children with egg allergies, who now have more options. In the past, people with egg allergies were told to avoid the shot, which contains a small amount of egg proteins. The American Academy of Pediatrics recently offered new guidelines that said those children could receive the flu vaccine without any additional precautions, as research shows that a severe adverse reaction would be rare.
David Baumberger, vice president and chief medical officer for Decatur Memorial Hospital, followed the previous rule for the flu shot and egg allergy sufferers.
“Historically, egg allergy was a contraindication for the vaccine,” he said. “Recommendations have evolved.”
Baumberger suggests parents who have questions about the vaccine consult their physician.
The recent AAP research shows those with egg allergies have reactions to vaccines similar to what others experience. Side effects include a tender or sore arm near the infection site.
“It can make you have an ache or the arm will be sore the next day,” said Emily Artime, physician's assistant for HSHS Medical Group Multi-Specialty Care, who specializes in infectious diseases.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, between 10 to 20 percent of the population can be infected with the flu viruses each year, and more than 200,000 are hospitalized from complications.
The CDC says flu season typically runs from October to May. Local healthcare professionals predict the season may begin in December and run through March.
Pharmacist Dale Colee of Dale’s Southlake Pharmacy has been administering the current flu vaccine since September. One of his suggestions to relieve pain is to rub the area where the shot was given.
Colee began offering a flu shot clinic from noon to 6 p.m. on Wednesdays at his two pharmacy locations as soon as he received this year’s batch of vaccines.
“We’ve had over 100 so far,” he said.
Colee predicts the upcoming season could be one of the more severe.
“Mild winters can cause a bad season,” he said. “We need that deep freeze to kill everything.”
Because of the potential harm influenza can cause, health care providers recommend everyone get the flu vaccine.
“Those with diabetes, congest heart failure, chronic heart and lung diseases should get a shot,” Baumberger said. “The virus can be dangerous and more severe. They could develop the problems that send them to ICU.”
Baumberger suggests patients receive the vaccine early in the season. Now is a good time.
Patients can take four to six weeks to develop an immunity to this year’s influenza. Health care professionals are most concerned with the A and B viruses. Each year, the flu vaccine contains different immunizations designed to stop the various strains. Most people will be safe from the disease for a year. Because the virus is constantly changing, a flu shot is recommended each year.
“The shot amps up the immunity,” Artime said. “And they update the shot with current vaccines.”
According to the CDC, the flu causes employees to lose up to 111 million workdays, with an estimated $7 billion a year in sick days and lost productivity.
The Macon County Health Department offers flu shot clinics throughout the community. The office also is open for immunizations on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. and 1 to 3:30 p.m. Most insurance is accepted. Without insurance, the cost of the flu shot is $40.
To further help avoid the flu, health care professionals say other prevention techniques also are important.
Baumberger suggests healthy people avoid contact with those suffering from a cough or are sneezing.
“And wash your hands,” he said. “I can’t stress that enough.”
He also recommends keeping disinfecting wipes handy, especially after visiting public areas.
“It is surprising how many times we inadvertently touch our faces,” Baumberger said.
Artime suggests patients who believe they have the flu stay away from others. As soon as they feel symptoms, they should call their doctor within 24 to 30 hours.
“We can get them on the medication that would help,” she said.