Column: How the flu can spread and why the vaccine is vital

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Commentary by Dr. Charles Harris

Have you and your family received your yearly influenza vaccinations?

Influenza season is upon us, and in Indiana, it usually starts in October and continues until late May.

The contagious, respiratory illness is caused by a virus that infects the nose, throat and lungs. The disease can cause mild to severe symptoms of chills, aches, runny nose, fever, sore throat and can even lead to death.

Influenza is spread mainly by droplets made when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of anyone nearby or be inhaled into the lungs.

People who have influenza can spread the virus to anyone within 6 feet, and this can happen before they know they are sick. Most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop and five to seven days after they become sick. Younger children and people with weakened immune systems may be able to infect others for longer periods of time.

The best ways to prevent influenza are known – cover your cough and wash your hands thoroughly and often. But most importantly, you should receive your annual influenza vaccine as soon as possible.

After receiving the vaccine, it takes about two weeks for the body to develop antibodies to the most common viruses of the season. Influenza vaccines are available in different types, including both live and inactive injections.

Those most at-risk vary widely in age and demographic, including children younger than 5 and especially younger than 2; adults 65 and older; pregnant women, who often have weakened immune systems and passes antibodies onto her developing baby; residents in long-term care facilities; and American Indians and Alaska Natives. Those 65 and older should receive the high-dose vaccine. Vaccines are available at your doctor’s office, local pharmacies and clinics, community centers and the Hamilton County Health Dept.

Dr. Charles Harris

For more, visit hamiltoncounty.in.gov/278/immunization-information.

Dr. Charles Harris is the Hamilton County Health Officer and can be reached at the Hamilton County Health Dept. at health@hamiltoncounty.in.gov.

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