WARWICK, RI — If you dig October’s chilly air and low humidity, you share that proclivity with hundreds of millions of influenza viruses sneezed airborne and rubbed on surfaces, making flu shots as necessary as sweaters.
The Rhode Island Department of Health launched Rhode Island’s annual flu immunization campaign this week, underlining the importance of flu shots for everyone older than six months.
“Year in and year out, a flu shot is the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones against the flu. Limiting the spread of the flu by getting a flu shot is especially important if you spend time with younger children or the elderly, who are more susceptible to the effects of the flu,” said Dr. Ailis Clyne, Medical Director of RIDOH’s Division of Community Health and Equity.
Flu shots are especially important precautions for the elderly, healthcare workers, younger children, pregnant women, and people with chronic medical conditions. Chronic medical conditions include diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and asthma, according to a statement on flu from RIDOH.
Last year, the flu sent 1,032 Rhode Islanders to the hospital and resulted in 39 deaths.
The U.S. flu season can begin as early as October, usually reaching its full-on start by December. The season reaches its peak in February and ends in March, according to Harvard University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences article, “The Reason for the Season: why flu strikes in winter.”
In the article, Hannah Foster, PhD candidate in the Molecules, Cells, and Organisms program at Harvard University, explains a 1919 paper about a guinea pig flu study that showed the animals spread the disease more often in cold, dry environments.
“Therefore, we can conclude that, at least in regions that have a winter season, the influenza virus survives longer in cold, dry air, so it has a greater chance of infecting another person,” Foster wrote.
Flu MYTH – information
The CDC has provided a list of common widely accepted myths about the flu and facts showing why taking them for granted is bad for your health:
MYTH: The flu vaccine can cause influenza. FACT: You absolutely cannot get the flu from the flu shot.
After getting a flu shot, some people experience a slight ache or a low fever. This means that the body is developing an immune response to the flu virus. These mild side effects are much less significant than the actual flu, which causes most people to stay in bed for a week.
MYTH: The flu shot doesn’t work FACT: The influenza vaccine will prevent influenza most of the time.
In scientific studies, the effectiveness of the vaccine ranges from 70 to 90 percent, depending on how well the circulating viruses match those in the vaccine. In populations in which the vaccine is less effective in preventing influenza, such as the elderly, the vaccine reduces the severity of the disease and the incidence of complications by 50 to 60 percent and the incidence of death by approximately 80 percent. Getting vaccinated is the most effective way to protect against influenza and its serious outcomes
MYTH: Our staff follows Standard Precautions, with good hand hygiene practices and appropriate glove and mask use – so vaccination is not necessary. FACT: Influenza is spread by respiratory droplets generated when talking, coughing or sneezing, before symptoms show up.
Adults shed influenza virus at least one day before any signs or symptoms of the disease, so health care personnel can unknowingly infect patients or other staff. Also, 50 percent of influenza infections can be asymptomatic, and both symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals can shed the virus and infect others.
MYTH: Our staff stays at home if they are sick – so vaccination is not necessary. FACT: Since unvaccinated individuals are contagious at least one day before any signs or symptoms of influenza appear, they can still shed the virus and infect patients and other staff.
Additional flu season precautions:
- Wash your hands often throughout the day. Use warm water and soap. If soap and water are not available, use alcohol-based hand gel.
- Cough or sneeze into your elbow. Flu is spread through coughing or sneezing on other people or into your hands. Cover your coughs and sneezes to prevent others from getting sick.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. Germs spread this way.
- Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious foods.
- Keep surfaces (especially bedside tables, surfaces in the bathroom, and toys for children) clean by wiping them down with a household disinfectant.