Influenza is a contagious, unpredictable virus that visits us every year, and each year it arrives in a new form. It is spread mainly from person to person by coughing, sneezing, or speaking with someone who has the flu. The virus may also spread by touching something with the virus on it, and then touching your mouth, eyes, or nose. People who have the flu can infect others one day before their symptoms develop, and for up to a week (or more) after becoming ill.
You might have the flu if you have symptoms of: fever/chills, cough, sore throat, headache, muscle aches, fatigue, and a runny or stuffy nose. (Of course, other illnesses can have the same symptoms of flu and are often mistaken for flu.)
Although getting the flu may land you in bed for two weeks, feeling like you’ve been run over by a truck…young children, people age 65 and older, and people with heart, lung or kidney disease, asthma, or a weakened immune system, can get much sicker. Flu can cause high fever and fatal pneumonia. It can cause diarrhea and seizures in children.
Each year 36,000 Americans die from the flu, and over 200,000 are hospitalized with the flu. Getting your flu vaccine is your best defense to NOT get the flu, not die, and not spread the flu to loved ones and others.
Here are your main weapons against the flu, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
1. Get your flu vaccine.
2. Wash your hands frequently with soap and water (or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer).
3. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
4. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth—flu germs can enter your body this way.
5. Routinely clean frequently touched objects and surfaces, including doorknobs, keyboards, and phones, to help remove germs. (Make sure your workplace and home have a good supply of tissues, soap, paper towels, alcohol-based hand rubs, and disposable wipes.)
6. Try to avoid close contact with sick people, coughs and sneezes.
7. If you think you have the flu, stay home. (If possible, train others on how to do your job so they can cover for you in case you or a family member gets sick and you have to stay home!)
8. If you begin to feel sick at work, go home.
9. If an outbreak of the flu occurs, follow public health advice.
IT'S NOT TOO LATE! Here’s where you can get your flu vaccine at San Francisco VA Medical Center (SFVAMC):
Veterans: All inpatients and all Veterans with a scheduled appointment may receive their vaccine during their appointment. Or, visit the Medical Practice drop-in flu clinic. Medical Practice is in Bldg. 200, 1st Floor, and the clinic is open Monday – Friday (except for federal holidays) from 8:30 a.m. – 12 noon, and 12:30 – 4 p.m.
Employees and Volunteers:
Occupational Health, Bldg. 203, Room GB-12: Mon –Fri, 10-11 a.m. & 2-3 p.m.
Now for some Flu Myth Busters! Here are 11 things you can say to people who don’t know any better and try to talk you out of getting your life-saving flu vaccine:
Flu Myth #1: “The seasonal flu is harmless.”
Fact: The flu is much worse than a severe cold; flu kills 36,000 Americans every year. That’s close to the number of women killed by breast cancer each year and more than twice the number of people annually killed by AIDS. If you get the flu, can you really afford to miss two weeks from work or school, or possibly having to be hospitalized?
Flu Myth #2: “The flu vaccine can give you the flu.”
Fact: You cannot get the flu from the flu vaccine; the injected flu vaccine contains only dead, inactive viruses. It cannot infect you. The San Francisco VA Medical Center does not offer live virus flu vaccines. Some people may get minor body aches, headaches or a low-grade fever after receiving their vaccine, but this is not the flu.
Flu Myth #3: “Antibiotics can fight the flu.”
Fact: Antibiotics only fight bacterial infections. Flu is caused by a virus. Antibiotics have absolutely no effect on any kind of flu.
Flu Myth #4: “The flu is only dangerous for the elderly.”
Fact: It’s true that those over the age of 65 are most likely to become seriously ill or die from the flu. But the flu can be risky for anyone, even healthy young adults. Last year many pregnant women and children got the flu. Parents and caregivers of children and infants should get vaccinated because they can be flu carriers.
Flu Myth #5: “If you’ve had the flu, you can’t get it again.”
Fact: There are many flu virus strains and you can get the flu even if you’d had it in the past. The strains that appear are different each year. This year the Northern Hemisphere’s 2012-2013 seasonal flu vaccine contains protection against these three strains of flu: A/California/7/2009; A/Victoria/361/2011; and B/Wisconsin/1/2010.
Flu Myth #6: “So you got the flu shot last year. You don’t need it this year.”
Fact: See #5 above. Also, your immunity after the flu shot fades after 6-12 months.
Flu Myth #7: “Getting a flu shot is all you need to do to protect yourself from the flu.”
Fact: That’s the best defense, but also wash your hands frequently, cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue (and then throw away the tissue), and try to avoid those who are sick. If you were exposed to the flu before getting your vaccine, ask your doctor about taking an anti-viral medication.
Flu Myth #8: “You can’t spread the flu if you’re feeling well.”
Fact: Actually, 20-30 percent of people carry the flu virus and have no symptoms, but can spread it to other people.
Flu Myth #9: “If you’re young and healthy, you don’t need a flu shot.”
Fact: If you’re in good health, you’ll probably recover faster from the flu, but why suffer through it if you can avoid it? If you don’t get a flu vaccine, you might be a carrier of the flu virus and give the flu to others in your family, or your friends. People with the weakest defense, such as children under 6 months old, can’t get the flu vaccine. Their safety depends on the rest of us getting our flu shots.
Flu Myth #10: “Vaccines are dangerous.”
Fact: Recently there has been a growing mistrust of vaccines. Some believe there could be a link between thimerosal in vaccines and developmental disorders in children, such as autism. There is no evidence that vaccines cause autism, and experts say we are losing sight of how important vaccines are. They’ve prevented more illness and death than any other treatment. For example, because of vaccines, polio has been eradicated in the U.S. (SFVAMC’s flu vaccines do not contain thimerosal.)
Flu Myth #11: “If you haven’t gotten your flu shot by November, there’s no point in getting it.”
Fact: In San Francisco, our flu season usually starts in December. Last year in our CLC, a flu outbreak occurred in February. So no matter what the month, if you haven’t had your flu vaccine yet, go get it!
(One caveat; if you have a severe allergy to eggs, or if you have ever had Guillain-Barre Syndrome, talk to your doctor before getting a flu vaccine.)
Look for the blue dot on employee badges: Beginning December 15, 2012, our health care workers are wearing a mask while performing patient care during flu season if they have not been vaccinated against the influenza virus. At SFVAMC, we strongly believe that disease prevention is every health care worker’s responsibility. If they are vaccinated, they will have a blue dot on their employee badge. So, health workers, “After your shot, get your blue dot!”
For more information, contact our AFVAMC Infectious Disease Control team:
Manon Marovich Mays, BSN, CIC, Infection Control (IC) Coordinator, ext. 2728.
Gloria Mathis, RN, BSN, CIC, Multi Drug Resistant Organism (MDRO) Coordinator, ext. 2593.
Patly Rohrbach, RN, BSN, CIC, IC Practitioner, ext. 3762.
Shelley Dwyer, RN, BSN, CIC, MDRO Coordinator, ext. 3760.