Don’t delay flu prevention measures, health officials say

By: Kayla Dimick, Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published October 12, 2016

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OAKLAND COUNTY — Fall is here, and with crisp sweater weather and beautifully colored foliage, something else is making a comeback: cold and flu season.

Dr. Christopher Carpenter, section head of infectious diseases at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, said right now is really the calm before the storm.

“There’s been no uptick in flu or influenza-like illnesses yet. Generally, the earliest we kind of see that peaking is December, with December through February being the prime months for us,” he said.

Carpenter said that while the flu season might still be several weeks out, we’re in the midst of vaccination season right now. While many providers start getting and administering flu vaccinations as early as August, October and November are really the optimal times to get a flu shot that will last through the duration of flu season, which can last as late as March or April.

Shanes Bies, administrator at the Oakland County Health Division’s Public Health Nursing Services, said people should not waste time when it comes to getting the flu shot.

“The flu vaccine is going to last strongly throughout the flu season,” Bies said. “It can sometimes take up to two weeks to be completely effective in your body. That’s why you don’t want to wait before you get vaccinated — you want to be ready when flu season does start.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the side effects of the flu shot can include soreness, redness or swelling where the shot was given; hoarseness; sore, red or itchy eyes; cough; fever; aches; and headache; along with more severe reactions in the event of an allergy.

Although flu season is not at its peak, some confirmed cases have already been reported, Bies said.

“We actually are having some flu activity even earlier right now. It’s not at its peak, but we sometimes get flu cases reported to us in June and throughout the summer, so it’s not unusual we’re seeing some confirmed flu cases,” Bies said.

In June, the CDC recommended that FluMist, the influenza vaccine in the form of a spray mist, should not be used this flu season due to poor performance in seasons past.

“Evidence came out that (FluMist) is not effective right now with the flu strains that are out. It’s not going to be protective this year, so we’re telling people don’t get it this year. That might change in upcoming years and it might be good to use again, but this year everybody should be getting an influenza shot, whether you’re an adult or a child,” Bies said.

Aside from vaccines, patients can do more to prevent the onset of illness. Carpenter explained that proper hand washing is a good habit all year round, but it’s especially important during cold and flu season.

“There aren’t any special soaps you need to be using. You’ve probably heard that the (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) recently came down on Triclosan. Basically, it can do more harm than good,” Carpenter said of the agent used in many antibacterial soaps.

Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are a good idea to keep on hand too; though they don’t take the place of regular hand washing, they’ll do in a pinch, Carpenter said.

On top of all that, he added, keep your coughs to yourself, why don’t ya?

“All those simple things Mom told you to do when you were a kid, they’re the best in terms of stopping the spread of illness,” Carpenter said. “Sneezing into your elbows instead of into your hands or the open air is important. And if you’re sick, I know there are those face masks and other things, but if you’re sick, you’ve got to stay home. Avoid folks if you’re able to. Don’t go spreading your misery around.”

Why all the special efforts? Carpenter explained that despite what some might say, the flu can and does kill people every year. There’s just no way to predict how the virus will impact you or your loved ones, so it’s best to keep it at bay altogether.

“You can’t look at someone who got sick and then got better and simply say it’s a benign infection. It depends on how it interacts with the host, or the person who gets the infection,” he said. “We’ve seen plenty of young, healthy people end up in our intensive care unit who could’ve easily gotten vaccinated. A mild case of flu for you could easily be passed on to someone else and be a severe case.”