It reads like a Hollywood script—a germ capable of causing severe illness is heading toward us, rapidly multiplying inside an unsuspecting human host. Those infected will be contagious before they even realize they are sick, unknowingly spreading the germ to others. Some people will become severely ill: a raging fever, body aches, and chills. Some people won't be well enough to go to work or school. Others will require hospitalization, some will die. A protective vaccine is offered but rumors swirl that it is more dangerous than the germ.
Sound like a big screen thriller? Actually, what I have described is the reality of seasonal influenza. Every year, flu sickens, hospitalizes, and kills Californians. This needn't be—a safe and effective vaccine exists, is readily available, and provides protection from the three most common strains of flu virus.
I find it appropriate that "Contagion," the film about a fast-spreading, mutant virus that leaves the world clamoring for a vaccine, is in theaters now. Although the virus in the film is a work of fiction, the protective benefit of vaccine is real. As flu season approaches, we can help stay healthy by getting vaccinated early as it takes about two weeks to develop protection.
We recommend everyone 6 months and older get flu vaccine. It is especially important for those more likely to have severe flu illness to get vaccinated, such as people 65 years or older, people with chronic health conditions, such as asthma and diabetes, children younger than five years, and pregnant women.
Understandably, parents are concerned about their baby's health. Pregnant women and young children are at higher risk for severe flu illness and complications, so it is important for expectant mothers and women planning to get pregnant to get flu vaccine. Unfortunately, a vocal minority spreads unproven claims that vaccines are harmful, leading some parents to leave themselves and their children at risk of disease. As with all vaccines, flu vaccine is carefully tested and monitored for safety. Pregnant women can safely get a flu shot during any trimester. A baby whose mother received flu vaccine during pregnancy can also benefit for the first six months of life, when infants are too young to get flu vaccine. To help protect the young and vulnerable, people who spend time near young babies, such as siblings and caregivers, should also get flu vaccine. You might not be near a young baby or a pregnant woman, but consider the families of those around you. Protect yourself and others, get a flu shot.
Flu viruses change over time and flu vaccine changes in response, which is why you need a flu shot every year. A flu shot cannot cause flu illness.
My wife and I got flu vaccine during each of her pregnancies and have made getting flu vaccine an annual family routine. I encourage you to do the same. Flu vaccine is available from your provider, many pharmacies and at public health clinics. Check cchealth.org or flucliniclocator.org for a location near you. By getting flu vaccine each year, we can protect ourselves and our community from an annual contagion and keep the raging fevers, sickness, and suffering where they belong, on the movie screen.
Mr. Leung is the Immunization Coordinator for the Public Health Division of Contra Costa Health Services.
Healthy Outlook is written by the professional staff of Contra Costa Health Services, the county health department. Send questions to series coordinator Dr. David Pepper at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more health information, go to www.cchealth.org.
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