Time to prepare for flu season

Early vaccinations urged by local health officials

As cold and flu season begins, pharmacies, doctors' offices, clinics and hospitals have employees rubbing dabs of alcohol on patients' arms and sticking in needles to inject a dead virus.

The move is meant to keep people from suffering from influenza during the flu season, and health officials say there should be enough flu vaccine for everyone who wants a dose.

Debra Quackenbush, public information officer for the McHenry County Department of Health, said the clinics the county holds to distribute flu shots can have up to 50 people. They take both appointments and walk-ins.

It takes about two weeks for the shot to take full effect in a person's body, Quackenbush said.

She said there shouldn't be any problems with getting a flu shot because many manufacturers have produced the vaccine this year.

"There should be enough for everybody who wants the shot," Quackenbush said.

She also said people should get their flu shots sooner rather than later.

"Those that wait until January or February, you're rolling the dice," Quackenbush said.

As for how bad the flu season will be, it will be hard to gauge until health personnel see how many people come in because they're sick.

"We love to see lower numbers every year," Quackenbush said.

Dr. Irfan Hafiz, the vice president of Medical Affairs for Centegra Health System, said the hospital system always prepares for the worst when it comes to flu season.

Because the flu is an illness that can spread from person to person, Hafiz said that if there is person who has a chronic health condition in a household, then everyone in the house should be vaccinated.

Hafiz said flu outbreaks usually go in cycles.

"We could have years of minor outbreaks, and then have a big one," Hafiz said. "Hopefully we don't get a big one for a while."

Dr. Philip Favia, a family practice physician with Advocate Medical Group – Algonquin, said he doesn't expect it to be a more severe flu season than any other, but it can be hard to predict which flu virus strains will be the predominant strains when manufacturing the flu vaccine.

During the H1N1 outbreak in 2009, the H1N1 virus had not been a predominant virus the previous year, Favia said.

He said people who get vaccines by October generally are immune to flu through the peak of the season, which is in February. However, getting a flu vaccine late in the season won't protect a person for the next flu season, Favia said.

There are also high doses for seniors who don't have a strong enough immune system, Favia said.

Signs of the cough and cold season are starting to appear in the patients at Favia's office, so he encourages people to get vaccinated, because getting sick with the flu can make life difficult.

"Once people get the real flu, they never want to get it again," Favia said. "It's not a nice experience."


What to look out for

Symptoms of the flu:

• Cough

• Fatigue

• Muscle aches

• Congestion

• Fever

• Possible diarrhea

Higher risk populations for the flu

• Infants ages 6 months and older

• Pregnant women

• Seniors

• People with chronic medical problems, such as diabetes, kidney disease, or someone going through chemotherapy or cancer.

Tips to stay healthy and from spreading illness

• Wash your hands frequently and use hand sanitizer.

• Wipe down shopping carts handles.

• Get vaccinated from the flu.

• When you cough or sneeze, cover your mouth with the corner of their elbow rather than their hands..

Source: Dr. Philip Favia, a family practice physician with Advocate Medical Group – Algonquin

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