Immunization still best way to fight the flu

Health officials are issuing their annual reminder urging people to get flu shots.

“Prevention is the key to wellness. Immunizations are one of the easiest and most important ways we can keep ourselves and our communities healthy,” said Dr. Benjamin Schlais, a family physician with ThedaCare Physicians-Shawano.

The flu is a contagious respiratory illness that is best avoided by staying away from other sick people (if possible); washing hands well with soap and water to rinse away germs that could infect the mouth, nose, or eyes; and getting vaccinated.

Healthy people typically bounce back, but the very young and the elderly are most susceptible to serious complications from the flu.

“Influenza can get very serious, very quickly,” Schlais said. “Whereas some of us get the sniffles and chills or need a day or two off work to rest, the very young and very old can be hospitalized and even die from a bad influenza infection.”

Vaccination helps protect women during pregnancy and their babies for up to 6 months after they are born. One study showed that giving flu vaccine to pregnant women was 92 percent effective in preventing hospitalization of infants for flu.

“When a pregnant mother gets the flu shot and her body then produces antibodies to influenza, these protective antibodies are passed on to a nursing baby via the mother’s breastmilk,” Schlais said.

Babies are especially in need of protection, because children are first eligible for flu vaccinations at six months of age.

The body’s immunity to influenza declines as a person ages. Physicians say a person should get vaccinated each year to boost his or her immunity, because age and certain chronic health conditions are the biggest contributors to serious influenza infections. This is true even if the formula of the immunization has not changed from one year to the next.

Schlais also advises his over-65 patients to get the shot that’s specially formulated for older adults.

“Higher dosing helps better stimulate the immune system in people whose immunity is naturally declining,” he said.

Flu vaccination may make a person’s illness milder if he or she does get sick.

Three kinds of flu viruses commonly circulate among people today: influenza A (H1N1) viruses, influenza A (H3N2) viruses and influenza B viruses.

This year, ThedaCare and others will offer the quadrivalent (four-way) 2017-2018 flu vaccine that also protects against an additional B virus.

FluMist, administered by a squirt of attenuated (weakened) live virus into a person’s nasal passages, is not recommended for use this year. For the second year in a row, this method has been shown to be about 20 percent less effective in preventing the flu than a traditional injection.

“Getting immunized against the flu is the right thing to do,” Schlais said. “When you get immunized, you are protecting yourself, and you are doing your part to limit the spread of influenza among your family, co-workers and friends. You are defending them, too.”