WEST VIRGINIA (WOAY) – The holiday season is upon us and that means time spent with family and friends, but it also means influenza (flu) season. Flu is a highly contagious respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus. Not just a “bad cold”, flu can result in serious health complications, especially in the very young, the elderly, pregnant women and individuals with chronic diseases. Most people who get the flu will recover in several days to less than two weeks, but some people will develop serious flu complications such as pneumonia and bronchitis. Millions are hospitalized each year and some even lose their life as a result of the flu.
Flu is spread when people who are infected with the virus cough, sneeze or talk. Sometimes a person can get the flu simply by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose or eyes. People with flu are most contagious in the first three to four days after their illness begins, however, they can also infect others before they have any symptoms. That means someone with the flu can pass the flu onto others before they ever realize they are sick. “Getting the flu vaccine is an important step in not only protecting ourselves from the flu, but also ensuring that we don’t pass the flu on to our loved ones,” said Michelle Chappell, Co-Chair of the WV Immunization Network and Senior Manager of State & Primary Care Systems at the American Cancer Society.
For people who are living with chronic health problems, flu can make these conditions worse. Age and chronic health issues increase a person’s risk of developing serious complications from the flu. For example, flu can trigger asthma attacks, worsen asthma symptoms, and increase the likelihood of developing pneumonia. People with diabetes (type 1 or type 2), even when well-managed, are also at high risk of serious flu complications. However, flu vaccination has been found to reduce hospitalization among people with diabetes by about 79%.
Healthy individuals can play a part in reducing the spread of this highly contagious illness to newborn, elderly, pregnant and immunocompromised family members by getting the flu vaccine. The CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine for anyone over the age of 6 months. The flu vaccine is particularly important for people who are at high risk of complications from flu.
Flu vaccines are offered in many locations in West Virginia, including doctor’s offices, health departments, pharmacies, community health centers, and travel clinics, as well as by many employers and at school-based health clinics.
For those who have not yet received the flu vaccine this season, now is the best time to get vaccinated in order to protect yourself from the flu over the holidays. For more information about the flu and the benefits of flu vaccination, talk to your health care provider or visit: www.cdc.gov/flu.