SPRINGFIELD – If you haven’t received your flu shot yet and are among those at risk of complications from the flu, including young children, the elderly, those with heart disease, and pregnant women – then it’s time to get the flu shot now, especially during this holiday season.
Complications that can affect both high-risk adults and children include pneumonia, sinus infections, bronchitis and ear infections. The flu can also aggravate and worsen chronic conditions such as heart disease and asthma.
“As families get together for the holidays and people are spending more time in crowds shopping or attending large celebratory gatherings, or even traveling, it’s easy to catch the flu if you’re not vaccinated,” said Dr. Sarah Haessler from the Infectious Disease Division at Baystate Medical Center.
According to Dr. Matthew Sadof, a pediatrician at Baystate Children’s Hospital, getting a flu shot for your children is the single most important thing you can do to protect them, especially in the face of any underlying medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, or multiple medical problems that can result in severe complications from the flu.
“Every year in this county, kids die from complications of influenza, and although they tend to be young and have underlying illnesses, even healthy kids can die from the flu, which is preventable,” said Dr. Sadof, who sees patients at Baystate High Street Health Center – Pediatrics.
“Getting your child vaccinated also protects others in your family, who may be exposed to the influenza virus if your child becomes infected at school or elsewhere, then brings it home to infect family members whose health may be fragile,” he added.
Similar to last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is recommending that everyone six months of age and older be vaccinated unless their doctor recommends against it because of certain pre-existing conditions. Also, the CDC says that babies and children ages 6 months to 8 years old will require two shots if it is their first time getting a flu vaccine. However, only one shot is needed if they were vaccinated last year.
Also, for those with heart disease, they might want to think twice before saying “no” to a flu shot, noted Dr. Gregory Giugliano, director, Cardiac Cath Lab and Research in the Heart and Vascular Program at Baystate Medical Center.
“If you have heart disease, then you are one of those vulnerable groups who are less able to deal with the stress that the flu puts on the body. It raises your blood pressure and heart rate and puts you at increased risk for a heart attack, as well as respiratory failure or even pneumonia,” he said.
According to the CDC, some 37 percent of adults hospitalized with the flu during the 2010-2011 flu season had heart disease, and studies have shown that influenza is associated with an increase of heart attacks and stroke.
For those adults 65 and older whose immune system becomes weaker with age – placing them at greater risk of severe illness – there is a special high-dose vaccine available.
“Older adults are much more likely to be hospitalized or even die getting the flu, especially from complications of their heart and lung disease or from pneumonia which develops later,” said
Dr. Maura Brennan, interim chief, Division of Geriatrics, Palliative Care and Post-Acute Medicine at Baystate Medical Center. “The flu vaccine is a great way to help elders stay well and independent as long as possible.”
The flu shot is also the best protection for pregnant women, as well as for their unborn baby. While the vaccine provides antibodies to protect a pregnant woman against the flu, it also provides antibodies, passed through the placenta to their unborn child, to protect them until they can get their own flu shot at age six months. The flu vaccine is safe and well tested and has not been shown to cause any harm to mother or baby. It can be given during any trimester, however, the nasal spray flu vaccine is not recommended for pregnant women.
“Women are more vulnerable to the flu when they’re pregnant. An illness that may have laid you up in bed for a week last year, could land you in the intensive care unit this year. The best way to keep your baby safe is to keep yourself safe from the flu,” said Dr. Katharine White, chief, General Obstetrics and Gynecology at Baystate Medical Center.
While everyone six months or older should get the flu shot, it is also especially important for those with other chronic illnesses such as diabetes, lung and kidney disease, as well as those living in nursing homes.
“Cases of the flu are already circulating in the area. While flu season usually runs from October to May, it normally peaks in January or February. So, getting your flu shot as soon as possible is the best strategy, since it takes around two weeks after vaccination for your body to make antibodies against the influenza virus,” said Dr. Haessler.
For more information on Baystate Medical Center, visit baystatehealth.org/bmc.