The Medical Association of Georgia is encouraging Georgians to get vaccinated for the flu as soon as possible — and no later than the end of October — as physicians in the state have already reported caring for patients who have the flu.
“It is essential for patients who are six months or older to get vaccinated for the flu once a year,” says MAG President Rutledge Forney, M.D. “And they should ideally discuss their vaccination options with their primary care physician as a part of their overall health maintenance program.”
She noted that children and senior citizens are particularly at risk.
Forney stresses that, “We don’t vaccinate babies who are younger than six months old because the vaccine is ineffective for them, so it is especially important for everyone who spends time around these children to be vaccinated.”
She also notes that, “Women who are pregnant should be vaccinated because their antibodies are passed on to their babies, which helps protect them from the flu in their first few months of life — and children who are between 6 months and 8 years old who are getting vaccinated for the first time need to get two doses of the vaccine that is administered at least four weeks apart.”
The flu season doesn’t normally peak until January or February, but it takes time for the antibodies to develop in a patient’s body once they have been vaccinated — up to two weeks before they achieve the maximum level of protection.
Forney says that, “There are anti-viral medicines a patient can get to reduce the severity and duration of the flu — even if they have been vaccinated — but these are most effective when they are administered in the first day or two of the first flu symptoms.”
Flu symptoms include high fever, headache, fatigue, dry cough, sore throat, and muscle aches. Most people get better in a few days, but the flu can lead to pneumonia and other serious and potentially deadly complications.
The flu’s most vulnerable populations include the young, the elderly, and those with chronic medical conditions (e.g., asthma, heart or lung disease, diabetes, cancer, and immune system problems). Women who are pregnant are also at high risk of serious flu complications.
The numbers can differ dramatically from year-to-year, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated that more than 80,000 people died and 900,000 were hospitalized as a result of flu in the U.S. during the 2017-2018 flu season.
In addition to getting vaccinated, Forney says the best ways for patients to prevent the flu are to:
♦ Use a hand sanitizer
♦ Wash their hands with soap or an alcohol-based rub on a regular basis
♦ Cover their nose and mouth when they cough or sneeze
♦ Avoid touching their eyes, nose, and mouth
♦ Clean their living and work-space surfaces on a regular basis
♦ Avoid contact with others if they have the flu
♦ Stay at home for at least 24 hours after their fever is gone — unless they require medical care
Go to www.flu.gov, www.cdc.gov/flu or http://dph.georgia.gov/influenza-what-you-need-know for additional information on the flu and flu vaccines.