October flew by with a flurry of pumpkin spice lattes and frozen trick or treaters. Falling temperatures, changing colors of the trees and decreasing daylight also signal the official start of another season besides Fall. Flu season is here!
Widespread advertising for flu shots pops up in major grocery, pharmacy, and retail outlets. From posters to the pre-recorded message on pharmacy refill lines, both promotions are sending the same message — “Get your flu shot.” The individual decision whether or not to get vaccinated against the influenza virus is not always an easy one and often can leave a person with more questions than answers. It’s trickier than picking out a bag of Halloween candy.
Dr. Kerpe is an internist and solo practitioner who has been serving the Geneva community for more than 30 years. In this article, he shares some of the most frequently asked questions he gets from his patients about the Flu as well as some useful takeaways for residents in Kane County to help them combat the Flu in 2019-20.
What’s the difference between a cold or the Flu?
Typically a cold is less dramatic in onset, with nasal congestion sometimes developing into a colored discharge. Symptoms are usually modest and more of an annoyance than causing major illness. There is extensive overlap.
Characteristics of the Flu are abrupt onset, fever, headaches, muscle aches with a sniffle or a cough. Influenza usually feels like being run over by a train.
Dr. Kerpe shares about his personal experience with an episode of the Flu. “I woke up that day feeling ok. By noon, I had some nasal discharge a cough and was exhausted. My staff told me I looked terrible. By early afternoon, I canceled my remaining office hours and went home. The real kicker was that I remembered sitting down in front of the television, and three hours later, I noticed that the tv was not on. Now that’s sick!”
Flu—At a Glance
—It usually occurs in 2-4 days of exposure.
—Peak month for influenza in Kane County in February.
—The optimum time to be vaccinated is between September and February
—Annual vaccination reduces mortality from Flu up to 75% and reduces hospitalizations by 40%.
—People who get treated regularly do better than those who get Flu shots occasionally.
—Flu vaccination has been shown to lower rates of some cardiac events in people with heart disease.
Dr. Kerpe stresses that it’s especially crucial for older adults and people with fragile immune systems to immunize. People who have complex, chronic illnesses like Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, for example, deal with severe pain, fatigue, stomach issues, migraines, POTS, on a daily basis. Having influenza on top of an already over-stressed body would be devastating.
One of the most severe complications of Flu is pneumonia. He continues that the presence of Flu can even trigger a heart attack. Most importantly, it kills. In 2018, 80,000 people in the United States died of the Flu. That’s the highest recorded number since the pandemic of 1918, where an estimated 500,000 people killed in the U.S.
One patient in Dr. Kerpe’s practice wanted his flu story told. He was a 40-year-old, previously healthy male who thought it was not essential to get his flu shot. After contracting the virus, he spent one week in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) fighting for his life, one month in the hospital, two months in a nursing home rehabilitating, and was finally able to return to work six months later. Dr. Kerpe says that the physical and financial costs for this patient were huge. This year, he told Dr. Kerpe that he’d be getting a flu shot for sure.”
How will I know what viruses the vaccine covers?
“Our office offers a quadrivalent vaccine that covers four strains: Two A types and Two B Types. There is a high dose trivalent vaccine recommended for seniors above 65 and is highly effective over age 85. Using that appears to have a modest improvement, but it’s more expensive and has more side-effects.
Egg allergies? No problem.
The quadrivalent vaccine is safe for egg allergies but does contain a preservative. It is not a live virus.
Interestingly, taking statin medications like Lipitor or red-yeast rice appears to reduce the effectiveness of vaccinations somewhat. Options are to hold the drug or to receive the high-dose vaccine.
What are the side effects of the flu shot?
Typically, it varies from person to person but muscle ache, redness, low-grade fever, and fatigue. Symptoms can last 2-3 days and resolves. Some people are more sensitive to the vaccine can suffer more significant signs, which can be.
Why do patients avoid getting vaccinated? According to Dr. Kerpe, there are several reasons why people fail to get a flu shot. Here are some objections that he hears frequently.
“The flu shot will make me ill.” It’s true. There may be some muscle soreness by the injection site as well as some fatigue for a day or two. These small annoyances are much easier to tolerate than a full-blown case of influenza would be.
“Oh, I never get sick.” Like the stock market, past performance is not a guarantee of future performance. If we live long enough, all of us will experience some illness.
“You can’t predict which strains of the virus will occur. “ It’s essential to remember that although the flu shot may be unpleasant or hard to bear, imagine the effects of full-blown influenza.
“I don’t like needles.” Consider a nasal spray or jet injector method of immunization for those who prefer a needle-less approach. They both contain a live virus and not recommended for pregnant women or nursing moms or those who are immunocompromised.
“I see several key points for people to understand to be healthy for the upcoming flu season. Here are five important takeaway points that are important in 2019-20:”
1.) Receiving an annual influenza vaccine appears to be the most robust way to prevent Flu. “There’s a positive, synergistic benefit that occurs over time when a person receives vaccinations consistently,” Dr. Kerpe explains. “This healthy benefit decreases, however, when he or she receives them occasionally.”
2.) Be sure to stop statin medications for about a week. Drugs like Lisinopril, Pravachol, Crestor, for example, will counteract the effects of the flu shot.
3.) The high dose flu shot for those ages 65 and older may slightly improve protection against the influenza virus. It, however, was only marginally more effective compared to those who get the regular dose shot consistently every year.
4.) Wash your hands! It’s still the number one way to avoid sharing the bug. Also, remember to cover your mouth in public places by using a medical face mask when available.
5.) If you do start to feel sick, be aware there’s a couple of prescriptions that are available if you catch it early. Anti-viral medications, like Xofluza or Tamiflu, can lessen the impact and duration of the Flu when taken within the first day or two of symptoms for a suspected flu.
6.) Always consult your doctor when any flu symptoms start to determine your best treatment option.