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.
âItâs primarily spread by respiratory droplets,â Dr. Koller said. âWhen somebody with influenza coughs or sneezes, out shoots this spray of flu virus. So in addition to covering your mouth when you cough, itâs really important to wash your hands.â
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.
âOnce you have the flu, you never forget it,â Dr. Koller said. âUsually those are the people you donât have to convince to get a flu shot because they never want to get it again.â
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.
âPeople 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,â 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.
âItâs more about patient safety â not giving our patients an infection,â 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.
âThe product that we have doesnât have any thimerosal at all,â 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 âboosterâ shot four weeks later. Parents often are not prepared for the second shot.
Dr. Koller said that itâs impossible to get the flu from getting a flu shot, which is a common misperception. However, some will experience some side effects.
âSome people get soreness or pain at the site of the injection. A smaller number of people will feel achy and tired,â Dr. Koller said. âBut all of those side effects are usually gone after two days. If itâs the first year that youâve gotten the flu shot, youâre more likely to get the side effects. In the subsequent years, youâre much less likely to get them.â
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.