Flu and its prevention should be taken seriously
Alaska Older Veterans Report
Fall in Alaska is that short period of time between summer fun and six months of cold snowy weather that lasts until after you file your taxes. As the leaves turn bright colors and fall from the trees, you remember it's time to winterize everything, pull out the blue tarps and have the sled tuned up. But the most important ritual for the fall should include a trip to the VA influenza clinic and see the Alaska VA Flu Coordinator, Marylou.
The Alaska VA could not have made this annual visit any quicker and easier with a walk-in, no-appointment-needed clinic. If you are over 65, have diabetes, asthma, heart or lung diseases, then you are a high risk individual for contracting influenza. Remember, a vaccine is preventative in nature and not a cure.
Some people tend to confuse the common cold and influenza symptoms, thus incorrectly and dangerously thinking they have a cold that will just run its course. While some of the symptoms are similar, there are some key indicators that you have the flu and not a cold.
It is rare that a cold will cause a fever of 100 to 102 degrees lasting over three to four days. The same goes for chills, which is almost always the flu and not a cold. Headaches occur in both a cold and the flu but the pain will be more severe with the flu. Both the flu and a cold will make you tired and weak but just like the headaches, your fatigue will last longer and be more severe with the flu. Coughing, sneezing, stuffy nose and a sore throat might have you running to the cold remedies section of the drug store but if any of the other symptoms are present, it just might be time for a professional opinion.
If you have some or all of the symptoms, you do several things to prevent spreading the disease to others. First, keep your hands clean by washing them often. Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze and dispose of the tissue safely. Keep surfaces in the bathroom, bedroom and kitchen clean with a good disinfectant cleaner. Above all stay at home. Don't try to be a hero at work by going to the office sick and infecting all your coworkers.
At the VA clinic, the grocery store, the drug store and almost anywhere offering "flu shots", you will receive an injectable vaccine that contains no live influenza virus. So don't even try the old excuse that you get the flu every time you take a flu shot. You already were sick and should have waited until you were better to get vaccinated. Most health care professionals administrating the shot will tell you to come back after your symptoms subside.
Not everyone is a candidate for a flu shot. If you have severe life-threatening allergies and have had extreme reactions to eggs, gelatin or antibiotics, just to name a few, then you should consult your primary health care provider for guidance. It should be noted also anyone with Guillain-Barre Syndrome or GBS should not get the vaccine and should discuss alternatives with their primary health care provider.
Influenza is not a disease to ignore for older people. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), influenza claimed almost 54,000 U.S. lives in 2011 (latest year available). While other diseases have better public awareness thanks to the non-profits that benefit from better marketing, influenza ranks fifth in deaths from disease in the U.S. This is not a disease to be taken lightly, especially in light of the fact deeply discounted vaccinations are offered at so many locations in the fall and free to veterans at all VA clinics.
The Anchorage VA Flu Coordinator is Marylou Rose and may be contacted at 907-257-6796. I can personally recommend her since she gave me mine last week.
Until next month, be safe, happy and healthily.
Mike Dryden is a retired Army Major and current board member of Older Persons Action Group, Inc.