Influenza, commonly referred to as the flu, is a highly contagious viral infection. Symptoms often include a quick onset of fever, muscle ache, sore throat, cough and headache. Influenza symptoms are usually mild to moderate in severity and last for 2 to 3 days. In more serious cases however, the flu can lead to further complications such as pneumonia or even death. Each year more than 200,000 hospitalizations are flu-related. Flu season usually peaks in December and continues through March. The flu vaccine provides protection against contracting the flu. There are two types of influenza vaccines available for the 2010 season, the traditional “flu shot” and a nasal vaccine.
The flu shot is a yearly vaccine that can be given to adults and children as young as six months of age. This vaccine contains three different inactivated strains of the flu virus. One of the strains in the 2010 influenza vaccine will be the 2009 H1N1 virus. Because the peak flu season begins in December, the optimal time to receive the influenza shot should be during October or November. The flu shot is usually recommended for all persons that are high risk for complications such as those 50 years of age and older, healthy children 6 months through 18 years of age, residents of long term care facilities, pregnant women, and those 6 months of age and older with chronic illnesses (such as pulmonary or cardiovascular illnesses). Common side effects are redness and soreness at the injection site that usually lasts for 1 to 2 days. Less than one percent of people experience fever, muscle ache or tiredness. Some individuals have not been able to receive the influenza vaccine in the past because of an allergy to eggs. However, in 2011 a non-egg based vaccine will become available.
Another option for protection against the flu is the nasal vaccine also known as FluMist. FluMist is approved for healthy persons age 2 through 49 and it is given as a nasal spray. Unlike the influenza shot, the nasal vaccine may be given as soon as it is available in the late summer or fall. FluMist contains a live attenuated virus, which is a weakened form of the flu virus. The most common side effects of the nasal vaccine are runny nose, cough, nasal congestion, chills, sore throat and headache.
Visit http://www.flu.gov/ for further information on the vaccines.
~Nicole Day, PharmD