By Douglas DeMaio, Bavaria Medical Department Activity Public AffairsFebruary 6, 2012
VILSECK, Germany (Feb. 6, 2012) -- Influenza affects several million people every year.
Small children, pregnant women and people with chronic illnesses like diabetes and asthma are considered high-risk persons for contracting the flu and should take precautions to protect themselves.
"Their immune systems are weakened and, if they get the flu or any other illness, they don't have the mechanisms to fight it off as much as the folks who are healthy," said Lt. Col. Gwendolyn L. Davis, chief of Army Public Health Nursing for Bavaria Medical Department Activity. "That is why we encourage them to get the vaccine. High-risk people, especially the pregnant women, they definitely need it. The myth that it is not safe and will affect the unborn child is just a myth. It is safe."
High-risk persons are more likely to suffer from serious complications caused by the flu, Davis said.
Staying active, getting plenty of rest, taking vitamins and drinking an ample of liquids to stay hydrated can all help boost a person's immune system and help fight off germs, but she said, there is one sure way a person can significantly reduce their odds of contracting influenza.
"The most important is the flu vaccine," Davis said. "It is never too late to get it throughout the year, but we prefer you get it at the beginning of the season so you will have better protection. It's free to all the beneficiaries. Most of the clinics offer it on a walk in basis, so there is no need to make an appointment."
FluMist, which is given through the nose, is good for children who are 2 years of age up to adults who are 49 years old. Anyone not in that age group would need to get an injected vaccination known as Fluzone.
There is a common misconception out there that the FluMist will give people the flu because it is a live vaccine, but that is just a myth, Davis said.
"You will not get the flu from the flu vaccine," she said. "You get protection. Some people have gotten sick but not because of the vaccine. They were going to get sick anyway."
The vaccine takes between 10 to 14 days to take effect, Davis said. Every year, the influenza strain changes, so Davis encourages people to be protected seasonally.
"It changes just enough to make a difference," she said. "The vaccine is available through the end of June."
Flu season starts in fall and ends in the spring.
Historically, winter is flu season, and flu activity peaks after January, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's website. Since 1976-77, February has proved to have the highest flu activity. A report titled "influenza is slowly progressing in Europe" by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control listed the spread of flu in Germany for the third week of January to be "sporadic."
Last year, during the same week, the organization's Weekly Influenza Surveillance Overview listed the spread of the flu to be "regional," but by the fifth week, the weekly overview listed the spread of flu to be "widespread."
Practicing good hygiene like washing hands frequently and sneezing in ones sleeve rather than in ones hands will help slow the spread of influenza, but there are other ways to help prevent the spread of the virus.
"If you get sick, don't spread it," Davis said. "Stay at home if you are sick. We encourage supervisors who have someone sick in their office to send them home. It is very contagious and you don't want to spread it around. We know it interferes with the work, but still it is better for them to stay at home and get well for a couple of days than to come in and have the whole office get sick."