Friday, September 11, 2009


Loyola physician says each day you wait your risk of infection rises dramatically

MAYWOOD, Ill. -- With the regular seasonal flu season fast approaching, now is the right time to get vaccinated before the risk of infection begins to rise dramatically.

"The time is now to get a flu shot," said Dr. Michael Koller, associate professor, Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine in Maywood, Ill. "There is no shortage of seasonal flu vaccine this year and the vaccine has shipped early this year. Loyola received half of its seasonal flu shot supply by the first of September and we expect complete delivery by early October."

The flu (or influenza) is a highly contagious viral infection that attacks the respiratory system. Doctors used to advise getting a flu shot only in October and November. Now doctors vaccinate through February because it takes about two weeks to develop an antibody response after the flu shot. For the last 30 years in the United States, February has been the peak month for illness, though infections can occur through April.

"Flu is primarily spread by respiratory droplets," Koller said. "When somebody with influenza coughs or sneezes, out shoots this spray of flu virus that can infect anyone nearby. In addition to covering your mouth when you cough and covering your nose when you sneeze, it’s really important to wash your hands to decrease the spread of the flu."

Each year in the U.S. between f5 to 20 percent of the population contracts the flu. Symptoms include an abrupt onset of fever, chills, headaches, exhaustion, aching muscles and a constant, unproductive cough, Koller said.

Most people recover from the flu in a few days, although they may experience some fatigue for several weeks after, 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," 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."

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends universal vaccination for all children 6 months up to 19. The CDC also recommends universal vaccinations for 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," Koller said.

Health-care workers and those caring for people in an at-risk group should also be vaccinated, Koller said, since a person can be infected and contagious for a short period of time before coming down with the classic symptoms of the flu.

For parents of young children who are worried about vaccines containing thimerosal, a preservative that contains mercury, Koller said that some of the flu shots being distributed in the Chicago area no longer contain any thimerosal.

"The product that Loyola has doesn’t have any thimerosal at all," Koller said.

Koller said, however, that any child under the age 9 who is getting a flu shot for the first time will need a second or "booster" shot four weeks later. Parents often are unaware that their young child may need a second flu shot in the first year of vaccination.

Koller said that it’s impossible to get the flu from getting a flu shot, which is a common misperception. However, he added that 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," 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."

Bottom line, influenza is a serious illness that can be prevented by vaccination. Since there is no shortage of vaccine, anyone who wants to decrease their risk of contracting the flu this year should get a flu shot now.

To interview Koller or any other Loyola experts in influenza, flu in children or infants, flu in pregnant women, flu testing or animal-to-human disease transmission, call Perry Drake in media relations, (708) 216-7940. Cell: (708) 441-7736.

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.