Preparation through vaccination key to staying free from flu

By: Sanford Health News .

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Though influenza (flu) season doesn’t peak until there is usually snow on the ground in the Upper Midwest, the peak time experts recommend getting vaccinated falls between September and November. All people age 6 months or older are advised to get an annual flu vaccine.

“Vaccination is the best way to prevent the flu virus,” said Jennifer Schriever, M.D., a family medicine provider with Sanford Health.

Schriever said the seasonal flu vaccine protects against three common influenza viruses that research indicates will be most common. She also stresses the safety of the vaccination for pregnant women and their unborn children — as well as the importance of the protection it provides for both. Pregnant mothers pass on protective antibodies, which helps keep the baby flu-free until 6 months old and able to receive a flu vaccination on their own.

Flu season starts in the fall before peaking around the end of December and is generally considered over in April. During the 2016-17 season, 43 South Dakotans died of influenza alone.

Of the flu-related deaths, 88 percent of patients were 64 years old or older. As people age, their immune systems don’t provide the protections they once did. This diminished immune system function increases risk for flu and other related ailments and complications.

In all, in South Dakota last flu season there were 2,043 confirmed cases and 950 hospitalizations.

What is flu?

The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza virus. The virus spreads through person-to-person contact and droplets made when infected people cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can be inhaled directly or picked up on common surfaces, making good hand hygiene another crucial component in keeping the flu at bay.

Generally causing mild to severe illness, flu can lead to death. It is particularly dangerous in very young children, older adults and people with chronic health conditions. There are a variety of signs and symptoms of the flu, including: fever or chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, fatigue. Children, more commonly than adults, experience vomiting and diarrhea when infected.

What to do?

Sanford Health offers flu vaccines on a walk-in basis at family medicine and children’s clinics and will also have scheduled days for people to come to a clinic to be vaccinated. Additionally, any patient can request a shot at a regularly scheduled appointment.