Stay FLUent: Questions and Answers for a (still) Complex Flu Season

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Yep, folks. That’s me…getting my flu shot. I just got it,too. About a week ago. After missing my vaccination clinic at work…then being too busy (okay, maybe too lazy and scared) to head down to a drugstore or to call my doctor to get one…my father took me over to our neighborhood CVS for my flu shot. Right after I got off the plane!!
One important thing I learned when talking to the nurse is that it is definitely not too late to get your flu shot! I know many still have questions about flu shots this year, and about H1N1 in particular. Here, Dr. Rehm, medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, answers some of our questions. Check ‘em out….
Do I need to get vaccinated for both seasonal flu and H1N1 flu?
Everyone 50 and above should get the seasonal flu vaccine. We’ve recommended this for many years now because people in this age group are more susceptible to complications of seasonal flu. Individuals who come in to contact with anyone at risk for complications should also get vaccinated for seasonal flu.
The groups who should get the novel H1N1 vaccine are a little different. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) prioritizes H1N1 vaccination for people 6 months through 24 years, pregnant women, individuals 25 through 64 years with high-risk medical conditions, people who are in close contact with children younger than 6 months, and health care professionals. But restrictions limiting the H1N1 flu vaccine to these high-risk groups could be lifted soon now that more H1N1 vaccines are available.
Why are adults 50 and above not on the priority list for H1N1?
So far, it appears that 50+ adults, compared to younger adults and children, are less likely to develop H1N1. They may be partially protected by immunities developed during earlier exposure to a similar virus.
That’s why–just as younger people are sometimes asked to skip the seasonal flu vaccine so that their parents and grandparents can be the first in line during a shortage–healthy 50 to 64 year olds and Americans over 65 are being asked to conserve the vaccine for children, pregnant women, health care workers and 25 to 64 year olds with health conditions that pose a higher risk of complications. But these restrictions may be lifted soon as more H1N1 vaccine becomes available. You should check with your health care provider or state health department.
Is it too late to get the flu vaccine? Where can I get it?
It’s a good idea to get vaccinated as soon as possible every influenza season to protect yourself from the earliest outbreaks. Typically, flu season doesn’t peak until around February, and we often see seasonal influenza activity continuing until March or April.
Check your doctor’s offices, pharmacies, and local health departments for the seasonal flu vaccines. A large amount of the vaccine was made, but with heightened awareness of flu this year the vaccine is in pretty high demand. If your local health care provider is out of the vaccine, keep checking back. It’s worth the diligence.
If I have a cold or some other illness, can I still get the flu vaccine or should I wait until I get better?
Flu vaccinations are extremely safe, and you can get one even if you have a mild cold. It won’t make your symptoms any worse. If you have a high fever, however, it’s a good idea to talk to your healthcare provider about whether you should wait.
What about pneumonia? Will the seasonal flu shot protect me?
Since pneumonia can be a complication of getting the flu, by avoiding the flu you may help yourself avoid pneumonia. But pneumonia can happen at other times too, so it’s important to get the pneumonia or “pneumococcal” vaccine. In addition to pneumonia, the vaccine also protects against certain types of meningitis and blood poisoning. Both the flu and pneumococcal vaccines are free for anyone with Medicare Part B.
If I am taking care of my grandchildren, should I receive both the seasonal flu and H1N1 flu vaccines?
If your grandchildren are younger than 6 months, yes. All people caring for children 6 months and younger should be vaccinated against both seasonal and H1N1 influenza. This is important because children younger than 6 months are prone to flu complications and are too young to receive either vaccine.
In areas where H1N1 influenza supply is still limited, people caring for children older than 6 months who do not fall into any other high-risk categories are asked to wait until those people prioritized for vaccination receive it. In other areas, you may be able to get the vaccine.
Q&A by Susan J. Rehm, MD
[note: Dr. Rehm is medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID), which is teaming up with AARP to help educate Americans 50+ about influenza risk and prevention. For any questions not answered below, speak with your healthcare provider, or visit www.aarp.org/flu or www.nfid.org.]

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