Healthcare official advises flu shot to protect against hard-hitting virus

By Ken Luchterhand

Last year, the influenza virus hit Wisconsin residents hard. This year, it may be more of the same.
That’s why Ho-Chunk Department of Health employees are encouraging everyone to get the flu shot before influenza rears its ugly head, especially HCN Infection Prevention and Employee Health Nurse Jennifer Baird.
“Timing of getting the shot is important. Many people may wait until the flu has made an appearance and is spreading throughout the area. However, that is not a good practice since it takes approximately two weeks to build up an immunity and people can be exposed to an active virus before the immunity is complete,” she said.
She encourages everyone to get a flu shot before the flu bug makes an appearance. Cost of the flu shot is covered for anyone who has Auxiant healthcare insurance, which covers all Ho-Chunk Nation employees.
“Anyone on the plan is covered,” she said. Anyone 6 months and older can get a flu shot. There are almost no contra-indications, meaning almost everyone can get the shot.
Usually people cite many reasons for not getting the flu shot. Some people have said that they feel sick after receiving the flu shot, lending belief that the shot actually gave the recipient the flu.
“Some people experience some general symptoms, such as malaise, sore throat, runny nose. Those symptoms are not from a flu virus, but instead the person’s immune system kicking in. The immune system recognizes the invading virus and develops antibodies to fight it.  This response creates those symptoms but means the body is developing antibodies that can handle the flu virus in the future,” she said.
Other people think because they are young or healthy they do not need a flu shot.  “I do believe it’s worthwhile.  If not for the person getting the shot, they can still prevent giving it to others, especially the young and elderly,” said Baird.
Baird emphasizes that everyone’s reason for getting the flu shot is different. What is most important is receiving the flu shot well in advance of any outbreak of the virus.
“It’s kind of like making your kids wear a bike helmet. Do you wait until they have an accident before you make them wear one? No, you have them wear helmets before something happens. Same with the flu shot. Be proactive rather than reactive,” she said.
Last year, the flu hit people hard and the vaccination was not quite on track with the current bug.  “There’s no way to perfectly match the vaccine to the virus because the virus is constantly evolving,” she said. “But it is close enough to provide some protection.”
Vaccine effectiveness only measures the number of people that do not get a disease after vaccination so it does not provide the whole picture.  Even though people still can get influenza after the flu shot, the risk is significantly reduced that the person will be hospitalized or die from the influenza virus.
As people spend more time indoors, it is more common and easier for viruses to be spread from one person to another.  People who do get sick need to stay home to prevent giving the virus to other people.  Incubation for the flu is about two days, so symptoms will not appear until after the person has picked up the virus.
Symptoms can include headache, sore throat, dehydration, fever, cough, body aches, chills, dehydration, a down-to-the-bone chill and a general down-and-out feeling. The worst can last up to seven days but fatigue and a cough can last much longer.
No antibiotics can help the situation; however, those with the flu can take antivirals.
“Antivirals reduce the risk of complications, especially for high risk people, and they can shorten the duration of the symptoms,” she said.
They also need to develop sneeze and cough etiquette, commonly referred to as “respiratory etiquette.”
“Germs can fly over large distances, so if you sneeze and cover your mouth with your hand, you can spread them even further,” Baird said.
She gives the example of partially blocking a garden hose with a thumb. The area not covered will result in the water squirting further than not being partially blocked. Same with coughs and sneezes, with germs escaping through and around fingers.  In addition, you now have the germs all over your hands and touch multiple objects and maybe other people, spreading the germs even further.
“The proper way is to sneeze or cough into the inside of your arm or elbow, facing down and away from those around you,” she said.   Etiquette also entails proper disposal of used tissues and hand hygiene. When opening doors, use a dry paper towel between the handle and your hand, then throw the towel in a trash can immediately afterward.
The clinic often gets reports of patients with flu-like symptoms who attended General Council. Some people were attributing the illness to the flu shot offered there, others thought the food was to blame, while others said the air conditioning system was to blame.
“The illness was not because of the flu shot”, she said.  “The flu shot contains inactivated influenza virus, which basically means it is not a live virus and cannot infect people or cause influenza disease.”
“Whenever you get that many people together in one small area, germs are more easily passed from one person to another,” Baird said.  There were not a lot of hand sanitizing stations around the facility, so it was difficult to reduce germs, especially before eating.
To avoid getting the flu, Baird advises people to wash hand frequently, use hand sanitizer solutions, and spray or wipe down frequently touched surfaces, like remotes, phones, countertops, and door handles.