Baltimore County offers tips for avoiding the flu
Wednesday, 16 October 2013 11:21

Residents urged to get a flu vaccine

by Nicole Rodman

    According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, each year between 5 and 20 percent of U.S. residents get the flu.
    While, for many, the flu can be fairly mild, for some people it can be severe — even deadly.
    In the interest of informing citizens about the flu — and what they can do to protect themselves — the county is offering tips for residents on the Baltimore County Now blog at www.baltimorecountymd.gov/News/BaltimoreCountyNow/Stay_in_the_Game_by_Taking_a_Free_Shot.
    Flu season arrives with cooler weather, usually around October, and peaks around January or February.
   

The flu — or, more formally, influenza — is a virus that causes respiratory illness, manifesting in symptoms such as fever, cough, sore throat, stuffy nose, muscle and body aches, headache and fatigue.
    The flu is contagious and is generally contracted when a person comes into contact with the flu virus, either by touching an infected surface or coming into close contact with an infected individual.
    The flu can infect anyone, though certain groups are more at risk of developing complications.
    Among these groups are adults older than 65, children (especially those under 2 years old) and people with existing health problems.
    Complications that can arise from the flu include ear and sinus infections and bacterial pneumonia.
    The flu can also aggravate existing health conditions, including asthma, arthritis, cancer, diabetes, heart disease and HIV/AIDS.
    Each year, approximately 200,000 people are hospitalized as a result of the flu. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not have exact figures, an estimated 3,000 to 49,000 people die from flu-related complications each flu season.   
    In a post on the Baltimore County Now blog, Della J. Leister, Deputy Health Officer for the Baltimore County Department of Health, offers tips on how to minimize flu risk.
    Leister recommends frequent hand washing as a way to reduce the spread of the flu virus.
    She also recommends that individuals cover their coughs and sneezes and avoid going to school or work if they are infected.
    One of the most reliable ways to avoid the flu is by getting vaccinated.
    Flu vaccines are given annually and last for one flu season. As flu viruses constantly change, each year’s vaccine is different.
    The flu vaccine is availble as a shot or nasal spray and  is recommended for everyone older than six months of age.
    Those who are at a high-risk of developing complications (and those who live with and care for them) are especially urged to get vaccinated.
    While the shot is approved for use in everyone over six months of age, the nasal spray vaccine is approved for ages 2 through 49.
    According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “If you get the flu vaccine, you are 60 percent less likely to need treatment for the flu by a healthcare provider.”
    The flu vaccine is considered safe, though there can be some side effects.
    Mild side effects may include soreness and swelling at the injection site, headache, fever, nausea and fainting.
    More serious — and more rare — side effects include difficulty breathing, swelling around eyes or lips, hives, weakness, fast heart beat, dizziness or high fever.
    Those with serious side effects are urged to seek immediate medical attention.
    Serious side effects should be reported to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) at http://vaers.hhs.gov/index.
    In extremely rare cases, individuals can experience life-threatening allergic reactions to the flu vaccine, though the risk of serious complications from the vaccine is far less than the risk of serious complications from the flu.
    Baltimore County will offer free flu shots for county residents during a drive-through flu clinic at the Essex Campus of the Community College of Baltimore County on Sunday, Nov. 3, beginning at 8 a.m.
    For more information on  the seasonal flu, visit www.flu.gov.