By Beth Sjoblom, M.D.
Internal Medicine Specialist
St. Anthony’s Medical Center
With winter just around the corner, another season also is getting under way – flu season.
Influenza, known as the flu, is a contagious viral infection of the respiratory tract, affecting 5-20 percent of the U.S. population annually. More than 200,000 people are hospitalized every year from flu complications and about 36,000 people die from it. That’s why getting your flu shot is so important.
The flu usually comes on suddenly, and its symptoms may include fever, dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, head and body aches, extreme tiredness, and, sometimes, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Most people recover in one to two weeks, but some – typically the elderly, very young children and people with chronic medical problems – may develop serious complications such as dehydration; pneumonia; bronchitis; and worsening of chronic medical conditions such as congestive heart failure, asthma or diabetes. Children may get sinus problems and ear infections.
Good health habits can help prevent the flu:
- Avoid close contact with people who are ill. If you are sick, keep your distance from others to prevent transmission of the flu.
- If possible, stay home from work, school and errands when you are sick.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing to stop airborne droplets from infecting others.
- Wash your hands often to help protect yourself and others from germs.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth to avoid transfer of germs from contaminated surfaces.
The flu is spread when an infected person coughs, sneezes or speaks. This sends the flu virus into the air. It then is inhaled into the nose, throat or lungs of others, where it multiplies, causing symptoms of the flu. Flu also may be spread by touching a surface with flu virus on it, such as a doorknob or computer keyboard, then touching your nose or mouth.
A person can spread the flu starting one day before he or she feels sick. Adults can continue to pass the flu virus to others for another three to seven days after symptoms start. Children can pass the virus for longer than seven days. Symptoms start one to four days after the virus enters the body. Some people can be infected with the flu virus without any symptoms, but they still can spread the virus to others.
The best protection against the flu is to get a vaccination each fall. There are two types of vaccines:
- The “flu shot,” an inactivated vaccine (containing killed virus) that is given with a needle. The flu shot is approved for use in people older than 6 months.
- The nasal-spray flu vaccine, a vaccine made with live, weakened flu viruses that do not cause the flu. It is approved for use in healthy people 5 to 49 years of age who are not pregnant.
For those who cannot receive a flu shot, another (although less effective) option is antiviral medication. Three antiviral drugs – amantadine, rimantadine and oseltamivir – have been approved for prevention of the flu. Those three drugs, along with the antiviral drug zanamivir, also may be prescribed for treating the flu. If taken during the first two days of illness, they can reduce the duration of the disease by about one day. Each of these drugs differs in side effects and must be prescribed by a doctor.
If you do get the flu, you should rest, drink plenty of liquids, avoid using alcohol and tobacco, and take medications to relieve the symptoms. Never give aspirin to children or teenagers who have flu-like symptoms without first asking your doctor. Since influenza is caused by a virus, antibiotics don’t work to cure it.
You cannot get the flu from the vaccine. The side effects from the flu shot are generally minimal. So, most people should choose the shot over the flu. Be safe, be healthy, and talk to your doctor about whether a flu shot is right for you.
Dr. Beth Sjoblom, an internal medicine specialist who is board-certified in geriatrics, is a member of St. Anthony’s Physician Organization. She practices at St. Anthony’s Medical Plaza, Suite 270, 12700 Southfork Road, 314-525-4678. For a referral to any St. Anthony’s physician, call 314-ANTHONY (268-4669) or 1-800-554-9550.
St. Anthony's Offering Flu Shots at Urgent Care Centers
St. Anthony’s Medical Center is offering flu shots to the community this year at all four of its urgent care centers. The cost is $25 for the traditional shot, or $30 for the new intradermal injection that uses a smaller needle injected into the skin instead of the muscle. FluMist nasal spray also is available for $45. This year’s flu vaccine offers protection against H1N1 and the seasonal flu virus.
Flu shots are available from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily at all four of St. Anthony’s Urgent Care centers:
- Arnold Urgent Care, 3619 Richardson Square Drive in Arnold;
- Big Bend Urgent Care, 10296 Big Bend Blvd., at Hwy. 44 and Big Bend;
- Fenton Urgent Care, 714 Gravois Road in Fenton;
- Lemay Urgent Care, 2900 Lemay Ferry Road in south county.
People who are older than 65, have a chronic illness or work with chronically ill people are especially susceptible to flu and are advised to receive a flu shot. Flu shot recipients must be at least 7 years old. Individuals age 18 and younger need to have a parent with them to sign a consent form. Pregnant women can receive the vaccine with an order from their doctor. The intradermal injection can only be administered to individuals between the ages of 18 and 64.
St. Anthony’s will bill to Medicare, but all other flu shot recipients will be required to pay with cash or charge. Recipients will receive a receipt for their vaccinations to pursue reimbursement opportunities with their own insurance companies.
No appointment is necessary. For more information on St. Anthony’s flu shots, call the flu shot hotline at 314-525-4999 or call 314-ANTHONY (268-4669) or visit www.stanthonysmedcenter.com.