Influenza is a highly contagious viral infection. While most people who contract it experience no more than fever, chills, aches, cough and congestion, influenza causes 200,000 hospitalizations and 36,000 deaths each year nationwide, mostly among people with other health issues.
You can help keep yourself healthy and prevent the spread of influenza by practicing simple steps like hand-washing, and by getting a flu vaccine. Vaccines for children and adults are usually available at many locations around Clatsop County, and the Clatsop County Public Health Department also offers vaccine during flu season, generally September through March.
To find out where you can get a flu vaccine, contact your health provider or local pharmacy, or call Clatsop County Public Health at (503) 325-8500.
More information on the flu is also available from the Oregon Public Health Division Information Influenza Hotline, 1-800-978-3040, or online at www.flu.oregon.gov
View a parents' guide to the flu here.
Influenza is a respiratory illness that is most commonly spread through coughing and sneezing, and for that reason people are urged to follow these practices:
- Cover your mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze and throw the tissue away.
- Wash your hands with soap and water, especially after coughing or sneezing.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
- Try to avoid contact with sick people.
Those who do contract the flu are urged to remain home for seven days, and at least 24 hours after the symptoms disappear, to reduce the risk of spreading the illness at work or school.
Q: What is influenza (flu)?
A: Influenza (flu) is a virus that infects the nose, throat, windpipe and lungs. The virus is highly contagious and is spread from one person to another by coughing, sneezing or talking.
Q: What are the symptoms of influenza?
A: Typical symptoms of influenza include fever, chills, muscle aches, congestion, cough, runny nose and difficulty breathing. Other viruses can cause symptoms similar to influenza. But, influenza virus is the more common cause of severe, fatal pneumonia.
Because influenza is a virus, it can’t be successfully treated with antibiotics.
Q: Who should get the influenza vaccine?
A: The influenza vaccine is recommended for everyone 6 months of age and older.Children under 9 years of age who have never received an influenza vaccine require two doses. If a child under 9 years of age was immunized for the first time last season and only received one dose, he requires two doses this season.
The nasal version (FluMist) is only recommended for healthy people between 2 and 49 years of age and has the advantage of inducing an excellent immune response without requiring a shot.
Q: How is the vaccine made?
A: There are two influenza vaccines.
The “inactivated” influenza vaccine is made by taking influenza viruses, growing them in eggs, purifying them and completely inactivating them with the chemical formaldehyde. This vaccine is given as a shot. The “live, weakened” influenza vaccine (FluMist) is made so that it cannot grow in the lungs. However, because the weakened viruses can grow in the lining of the nose, they induce an excellent protective immune response. FluMist is also made by growing the viruses in eggs. This vaccine is given as a nasal spray.
Both vaccines contain the three different strains of influenza viruses likely to cause disease that year.
Q: Are the influenza vaccines safe?
A: Yes. The inactivated influenza vaccine can cause pain, redness or tenderness at the site of injection. It can also cause muscle aches and low-grade fever, but because the vaccine viruses are completely inactivated, they cannot possibly cause influenza.
The live, weakened vaccine does have one side effect that can be quite serious. Because it is made in eggs, the vaccine contains small quantities of egg proteins. People allergic to eggs can have a severe, and rarely fatal, allergic reaction. For this reason, people who are allergic to eggs should not receive the influenza vaccine unless a physician administers it.
Q: Why do I have to get an influenza vaccine every year?
A: The influenza vaccine is given every year because the strains of influenza viruses that circulate every year are different. Influenza is unique in its ability to change the proteins that reside on the surface of the virus. These changes mean that people naturally infected or immunized one year might not be protected the next year.
Q: Can pregnant women get the influenza vaccine?
A: Yes. Pregnant women are more likely to experience complications and hospitalizations as a result of infection with influenza. We are suggesting that they speak with their physician before receiving the vaccine.