Health pros: Prevention key during flu season

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Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, receives his annual flu shot during a press conference last month in Washington, DC. | Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

With colder temps invading the first few days of fall, people should start thinking about how to prevent catching the influenza virus.

Influenza (flu) is a contagious respiratory illness that can have mild to severe symptoms in the nose, throat and lungs. According to theCenters for Disease Control and Prevention, the best way to prevent obtaining the flu is by getting vaccinated each year by the end of October, as flu season begins in the fall and can run as late as May.

Flu spreads easily, primarily through droplets made when people with the illness cough, sneeze or talk, and they land in the mouths and noses of those nearby. Adults can spread and infect others up to one day before their symptoms develop and up to seven days after becoming sick.

Doctors have had patients show concern about the vaccine giving them the flu.

“That’s not true,” Dr. Robert Cornwell of Holy Family Memorial Internal Medicine Clinic in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, said. “It is an inactivated live vaccine, it does not cause the flu, it is safe, effective and reduces the chance of dying or ending up hospitalized.”

Cornwell said anyone who may have the flu should visit their doctor within 48 hours of developing symptoms to be properly diagnosed and medicated. Symptoms will include fever and aching, which is different from that of the common cold.

“We encourage the older population, those with medical problems and those with weakened immune systems to get both flu and pneumonia vaccinations,” Cornwell said. “It is important for people in this demographic who develop symptoms to come in as soon as possible.”

To prevent spreading flu, Cornwell said those with the flu should refrain from going to work or school, wash hands frequently with soap and water, and wear a mask in public so as not to spread it.

“There is nothing we can really say about this season until it starts,” Cornwell said. “The flu will always be here, so prevention is key.”

This year, only vaccine injections will be available, as the nasal spray is no longer recommended.Manitowoc County Health Department Nurse Manager Mary Halada said this was a decision made by the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.

“All flu vaccines will be injected this year, as the committee looked at the spray’s effectiveness in the last three seasons, and have not seen it working to their standards, so they have recommended not giving it,” Halada said.

The CDC reviews the composition of United States flu vaccines each year to update and match circulating viruses. The 2016-17 vaccine will protect against up to four different viruses, including H1N1.

Doctors and the CDC recommend everyone 6 months and older get the flu vaccine each year.

Alyssa Bloechl, USA TODAY NETWORK

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