Fight the flu

Advocate staff file photo by BILL FEIG -- Crisma Ramsey, 10, right, is given the flu vaccine nasal spray by registered nurse Alfreda Hebert, left, at La Belle Aire Elementary School in October. The nasal spray is a way for healthy people, ages 2 to 49, to get the vaccine.
Advocate staff file photo by BILL FEIG -- Crisma Ramsey, 10, right, is given the flu vaccine nasal spray by registered nurse Alfreda Hebert, left, at La Belle Aire Elementary School in October. The nasal spray is a way for healthy people, ages 2 to 49, to get the vaccine.

People still resistant to getting vaccine

At the beginning of December, just about 36 percent of the general population in the country had gotten the flu vaccine this year.

“That’s roughly the same as last year,” said Dr. Melissa Love, a family medicine practitioner at Ochsner Health Center in Prairieville.

“About 60 percent (of the population) could be more aware and more proactive,” she said.

But, despite much urging by public health officials, the majority of people continue to skip the flu shot.

It’s recommended that everyone six months and older get the flu vaccine.

Some people have been lucky, said Love, and have never had the flu; they don’t see any particular reason to get the vaccine.

“I must hear that 15 times a day,” said Love, who said she tries to educate her patients about the importance of the flu vaccine on their office visits.

“When you actually meet a person who’s had the flu,” with its high fever, muscle aches and headaches, they generally make getting the vaccination a priority, Love said.

People usually know when they’ve caught the flu, as opposed to a cold, said Dr. Michele Salassi, an area pediatrician and internist.

“It’s usually a sudden onset of feeling horrible,” said Salassi, who practices with Our Lady of the Lake Physician Group, Primary Care of Live Oak, in Denham Springs.

Other people have had the misfortune of getting a vaccination and then still coming down with the flu.

There’s a two-week window of time, after getting the flu vaccine, when people are still susceptible to the disease.

“It takes the body about two weeks to make the antibodies” to fight the viruses, Salassi said.

Or, people may have already been exposed to the flu virus before they came in for the vaccine, she said, and see what they think is a cause-and-effect.

Sometimes, too, people may mistake a low-grade fever that may come as antibodies are developed following their vaccination, as the flu, Salassi said.

The important thing, though, is that people continue to get the vaccine every year, doctors said, as much as for others as for themselves.

The flu is highly contagious, and young children, people 65 and older, pregnant women and people with a weakened immune system get much sicker with the flu than the general population.

Anywhere between 3,000 and 49,000 people die from the flu every year in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There’s still time to get the protection for the disease that sends thousands of people to the hospital every year. Flu season activity can continue to occur as late as May, according to the CDC.

And the flu season, which usually peaks in January or February, seems to have taken off early this year. The numbers of reported flu cases in the state jumped beginning in December, said Dr. Raoult Ratard, state epidemiologist.

“It’s a little bit earlier than usual and (the numbers of cases) are progressively going up” in Louisiana, Ratard said.

Louisiana monitors its flu cases through 60 sites in the state, including emergency rooms, urgent-care clinics and volunteer physicians, he said.

There are two different ways to get the flu vaccine, by injection or nasal spray.

The injection uses a vaccine that contains inactivated — or “killed,” as the CDC says — flu virus.

The nasal spray contains live but weakened flu virus.

Neither one causes the flu, according to the CDC.

The flu shot is approved for people six months and older; it’s for healthy people, as well as for those with chronic health conditions, according to the CDC.

A new, high-dose flu shot became available several years ago for those ages 65 and older.

The newest development in the injection delivery method, available within the last year, is the intradermal vaccination.

It’s given just under the skin and uses a 90 percent smaller needle than the traditional injection; it also uses less medicine but is just as effective, said Dr. Frank Welch, immunization medical director for the state Department of Health and Hospitals.

The new type of injection is approved by the Food and Drug Administration for people ages 18 to 64, according to the CDC.

The intradermal vaccination isn’t widely available currently, although in Baton Rouge some chain pharmacies, including Walgreens and CVS, are offering the new type of injections.

The intradermal injection, while it’s administered under the skin, as opposed to into the muscle, isn’t pain-free, local physicians caution.

Any time the skin is punctured, there’s going to be some discomfort, they said.

The other method of vaccine delivery, the nasal spray vaccine, is recommended for a smaller portion of the population than the shot — healthy people between the ages of 2 and 49.

The people who should get the shot, instead of the nasal spray are: children younger than 5 with asthma; pregnant women; people with long-term health problems; those with a weakened immune system and those who are in contact with them; and children or teens on long-term aspirin treatment.

There are some people who may not be able to get the flu vaccine, regardless of the delivery method, and that would include those with any severe allergies, including a severe allergy to eggs (used in the development of the vaccine); people who have ever had a severe reaction after receiving a dose of vaccine, and those who have ever had Guillain-Barré syndrome, a severe paralytic illness.

People with the above conditions should talk with their physicians about the advisability of taking the flu vaccine.

For the general population, however, the flu is the “No. 1 preventable illness based on a vaccine,” Love said.