Monday, June 15, 2015

It's not too soon to begin preparing for the flu

Loyola physician says now is the best time to get vaccinated before coming of the flu season

MAYWOOD, Ill. - With flu season just around the corner, there is no time to dilly dally before getting vaccinated against an illness that usually strikes hardest in late fall and winter.

"The time is now to get a flu shot because it takes about two weeks to develop the antibody response," said Dr. Michael Koller, associate professor, Loyola University Stritch Chicago School of Medicine.

The flu season in Illinois usually begins in November, reaching its peak in February, Dr. Koller said. The flu (or influenza) is a highly contagious viral infection that attacks the respiratory system.

“It’s primarily spread by respiratory droplets,” Dr. Koller said. “When somebody with influenza coughs or sneezes, out shoots this spray of flu virus. So in addition to covering your mouth when you cough, it’s really important to wash your hands.”

Each year in the U.S. between 5 to 20 percent of the population contracts the flu. Symptoms include an abrupt-onset fever, chills, headaches, exhaustion, aching muscles and a constant, unproductive cough, Dr. Koller said.

Most people recover from the flu in a few days, although they may experience some fatigue for several weeks after, Dr. Koller said. However, for some people flu is a much more serious illness that requires hospitalization. In extreme cases, the flu can lead to pneumonia or death. About 36,000 Americans die and 200,000 are hospitalized from the flu each year.

“Once you have the flu, you never forget it,” Dr. Koller said. “Usually those are the people you don’t have to convince to get a flu shot because they never want to get it again.”

Unlike a couple of years ago when fears about bird flu led to shortages and calls for rationing of vaccine, there is plenty of vaccine on hand for anyone who wants a shot, about 130 million doses nationwide, Dr. Koller said. Loyola has 39,000 total doses available for its employees and patients.

The Centers for Diseases Control recommends universal vaccinations for all children ages 6 months to 5 years, pregnant women, people age 50 and older and anyone with a chronic illness such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease.

“People who have cancer, people who are immunosuppressed or people who are infected with HIV (the virus that causes AIDS), should also get a flu shot,” Dr. Koller said.

People who may not fall into an at-risk population but who live with someone who does should also be vaccinated, Dr. Koller said. The other big group is health-care workers, who may be infected and contagious before they realize they have the flu.

“It’s more about patient safety – not giving our patients an infection,” Dr. Koller said.

For parent of young children who are worried about vaccines containing thimerosal, a controversial preservative that contains mercury, Dr. Koller said the fear is gone.

“The product that we have doesn’t have any thimerosal at all,” Dr. Koller said.

Dr. Koller explained, however, that any child under the age nine who is getting a flu shot for the first time will need a second or “booster” shot four weeks later. Parents often are not prepared for the second shot.

Dr. Koller said that it’s impossible to get the flu from getting a flu shot, which is a common misperception. However, some will experience some side effects.

“Some people get soreness or pain at the site of the injection. A smaller number of people will feel achy and tired,” Dr. Koller said. “But all of those side effects are usually gone after two days. If it’s the first year that you’ve gotten the flu shot, you’re more likely to get the side effects. In the subsequent years, you’re much less likely to get them.”

Flu shots are available to Loyola patients from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday at the Loyola Outpatient Center, 2160 S. First Ave., Maywood. After Nov. 10, Loyola patients can get flu shots during visits with their physicians. Flu shots cost $30. Call (708) 216-4723 for more information.

Flu shots are free for all Loyola employees. Shots are available from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday through Friday at Occupational Health Services, 1211 West Roosevelt Road, Maywood. Nurses will administer flu shots for employees during the Employee Health Fair from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Oct. 25 in the Loyola Center for Health & Fitness and at the Employees Benefits Fair from Nov. 14 to Nov. 16 in the atrium of the fitness center.

Vaccinations will also be given from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., every Tuesday in November in the cafeteria of Loyola University Stritch Chicago School of Medicine. Nurses in units can give flu shots from employee stock and managers can arrange to have nurses visit their departments at a convenient time to give shots. Shots will also be given from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Nov. 9 in Room 399 of the Stritch School of Medicine.

About Loyola University Health System

Loyola University Health System (LUHS) is part of Trinity Health. Based in the western suburbs of Chicago, LUHS is a quaternary care system with a 61-acre main medical center campus, the 36-acre Gottlieb Memorial Hospital campus and more than 30 primary and specialty care facilities in Cook, Will and DuPage counties. Loyola University Medical Center’s campus is conveniently located in Maywood, 13 miles west of Chicago’s Loop and 8 miles east of Oak Brook, Ill. At the heart of the medical center campus is a 559-licensed-bed hospital that houses a Level 1 Trauma Center, a Burn Center and the Ronald McDonald® Children's Hospital of Loyola University Medical Center. Also on campus are the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, Loyola Outpatient Center, Center for Heart & Vascular Medicine and Loyola Oral Health Center as well as Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, Loyola University Chicago Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing and the Loyola Center for Fitness. Loyola's Gottlieb campus in Melrose Park includes the 255-licensed-bed community hospital, the Professional Office Building housing 150 private practice clinics, the Adult Day Care, the Gottlieb Center for Fitness, Loyola Center for Metabolic Surgery and Bariatric Care and the Loyola Cancer Care & Research at the Marjorie G. Weinberg Cancer Center at Melrose Park.

Trinity Health is a national Catholic health system with an enduring legacy and a steadfast mission to be a transforming and healing presence within the communities we serve. Trinity is committed to being a people-centered health care system that enables better health, better care and lower costs. Trinity Health has 88 hospitals and hundreds of continuing care facilities, home care agencies and outpatient centers in 21 states and 119,000 employees.