EDITORIAL: Roll up your sleeve

It’s that time of year when the temperature drops and people come in from the cold. Close contact makes it so easy for germs to spread from person to person, including the pesky viruses that cause flu outbreaks and the misery that surrounds them.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Connecticut Department of Health recommend annual influenza vaccination for everyone age 6 months and older who do not have contraindications.

Influenza (also known as the flu) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by flu viruses. Two basic types of virus circulate in the United States, group A and group B. Influenza A may cause moderate to severe illness in all age groups and infects humans and other animals.

Influenza B causes milder symptoms and affects only humans, primarily children.

The flu is spread through the air from the respiratory tract of a person who has the flu, through coughing and sneezing. If somebody coughs or sneezes without covering it and another person breathes in the droplets from the cough or sneeze, that person may become infected.

The virus is also spread by direct contact with respiratory droplets. If somebody sneezes into his or her hand and touches a doorknob, hand rail, telephone, and the like and another person touches the object, now that person’s hand has the virus on it. If the person touches eyes, nose or mouth, the virus can get into the body and make the person sick.

To prevent the flu, it’s important to cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue and throw away used tissues. Always cough or sneeze into the elbow, and wash hands often.

Optimally, vaccination should occur before the onset of influenza activity in the community. Health care providers should offer vaccination by the end of October, if possible.

Children age 6 months through 8 years old who require two doses should receive their first dose as soon as possible after vaccine becomes available, to allow the second dose (which must be administered more than four weeks later) to be received by the end of October.

Vaccination should continue to be offered as long as influenza viruses are circulating and unexpired vaccine is available.

In any given season, the optimal time to vaccinate cannot be predicted precisely because influenza seasons vary in timing and duration.

Moreover, more than one outbreak might occur in a given community in a single year. In the United States, localized outbreaks that indicate the start of seasonal influenza activity can occur as early as October.

However, in 74% of influenza seasons from 1982-83 through 2015–16, peak influenza activity (which often is close to the midpoint of influenza activity for the season) has not occurred until January or later, and in 59% of seasons, the peak was in February or later (10).

In addition to the doctor’s office and clinics, flu shots are readily available at local pharmacies, supermarkets and health centers such as the Ridgefield Visiting Nurse Association.

It’s fast, cheap and practically painless. It sure beats the pain and discomfort of getting sick, feeling miserable, spending money on medications and doctor’s visits, and possibly spreading flu to someone for whom it could be life-threatening.

So roll up your sleeve and feel the sting. It’s the right thing to do for yourself, your family and everyone around you.

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