The Kansas Department of Health and Environment is encouraging Kansans to get immunized against the flu. This flu season, for the first time, KDHE and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are recommending that all children and teens ages 6 months through 18 years be vaccinated.
Although almost anyone can receive the vaccine, the earlier recommendation for children had included only children ages 6 months to 4 years as a priority group. However, the incidence of influenza among school-aged children is high, and children have been identified as a significant source for spreading the disease to more vulnerable populations.
“Expanding the recommendation should result in more vaccine being administered to children and teens ages six months through eighteen years. This will reduce their likelihood of becoming sick and spreading flu to others who are at greater risk,” stated Roderick L. Bremby, Secretary of KDHE. “Additionally, we can all help minimize the spread of the flu and reduce our chances of becoming sick by getting vaccinated.”
The flu season in Kansas begins in early October and can last until as late as early May. In the U.S., more than 200,000 people are hospitalized and 36,000 die from complications of flu every year, according to the CDC.
Flu viruses (also called influenza viruses) are passed from person-to-person by coughing and sneezing, or by touching a contaminated surface and then touching the nose or mouth. Symptoms of the flu include fever, headache, extreme tiredness, dry cough and muscle aches. Complications can include pneumonia, ear and sinus infections, dehydration and worsening of chronic conditions such as asthma.
The single best way to prevent the flu is to get vaccinated each fall. Kansans should contact their local health department or doctor’s office to ask about how they can receive the vaccine. It takes at least two weeks to build immunity after the vaccine is administered.
In general, anyone who wants to reduce their chances of getting the flu can get vaccinated. However, it is recommended by KDHE, CDC, and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) that certain people should get vaccinated each year. Most of these people are recommended for vaccination because they are at high risk of having serious flu complications or they live with or care for people at high risk for serious complications.
People recommended for vaccination during the 2008-09 flu season are:
§ Children aged 6 months up to their 19th birthday
§ Pregnant women
§ People 50 years of age and older
§ People of any age with certain chronic medical conditions
§ People who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
§ People who live with or care for those at high risk for complications from flu, including:
o Health care workers
o Household contacts of persons at high risk for complications from the flu
o Household contacts and out of home caregivers of children less than 6 months of age (these children are too young to be vaccinated)
Ways to reduce the risk of spreading flu viruses include washing hands regularly, covering coughs and sneezes with a tissue and staying home from work or school if sick. These measures also help prevent many other kinds of infectious diseases.
Although individual cases of flu are not reportable, Kansas participates in a sentinel surveillance program with CDC to monitor the level of flu activity in Kansas. The state began submitting flu data to CDC this month.
Persons who contract the flu should get plenty of rest, drink a lot of water and avoid using alcohol and tobacco. Take a non-aspirin pain reliever to help reduce fever. Over-the-counter products may be effective to alleviate cough and body aches.
Your doctor may recommend use of an antiviral medication to help treat the flu. These are prescription medications, and a doctor should be consulted before the drugs are used.
For more information about flu please visit www.kdheks.gov/flu/ or www.cdc.gov/flu/.