As the days shorten and temperatures begin to drop, people spend more time indoors. This gives all of us an opportunity to share germs, particularly the cold and influenza (flu) viruses. When a person talks, sneezes or coughs, droplets are released into the air. Large particle droplets can travel up to six feet in the air, while small particle aerosols can linger in the air near the infected person. You can inhale the droplets or touch a surface that has been contaminated and transfer the virus to your eyes, nose or mouth.
Symptoms of the flu and the common cold are similar, but they are caused by different viruses. A person with a cold is likely to have a sore throat and a runny or stuffy nose. The onset of symptoms is slow — a cold is more of a nuisance. Unlike a cold, the flu usually occurs suddenly and you feel much worse. Common signs and symptoms of the flu may include fever over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, muscle or body aches, chills, headache, cough, fatigue, weakness and nasal congestion.
Once infected, a person may develop no symptoms, or they may become ill within one to four days. A person with the virus is likely contagious from the day before symptoms first appear until five to 10 days after symptoms begin. Most healthy adults will recover within two weeks. Severe illness and death from complications of the flu are highest among people over 65 years old, children younger than two, and people who have underlying medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, heart or lung disease, or other chronic diseases.
Influenza typically occurs late fall through early spring, with peak activity between December and February. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends an annual influenza vaccine for all persons older than six months who have no contraindication to the vaccine or its components.
On Oct. 1, Information pertaining to the upcoming flu vaccine clinic for Fermilab will be available on the ESH&Q and Medical Office websites. Fermilab is offering Novartis’ Fluvirin, an inactivated influenza virus vaccine indicated for active immunizations against the following three influenza viruses, which are expected to be the most common during the upcoming season:
- A/California/7/2009 (H1N1)-like virus
- A/Switzerland/9715293/2013 (H3N2)-like virus
- B/Phuket/3073/2013-like (Yamagata lineage) virus
Contraindications to receiving the vaccine include a severe allergic reaction to egg proteins, thimerosal, or latex; a serious reaction to a previous influenza vaccine; and an occurrence of Guillain-Barre syndrome within six weeks prior to the receipt of an influenza vaccine. It is recommended that these individuals seek immunization from their primary physician or allergist.
Influenza vaccine is generally well-tolerated. The most common adverse events occurring in adults within seven days of vaccination were pain and erythema at the injection site, headache, fatigue, myalgia and malaise.
To prevent the spread of influenza, wash your hands thoroughly and frequently, ideally with soap and water, by scrubbing your hands vigorously for at least 15 seconds, or use alcohol-based hand sanitizers. Cough into a tissue or the inner crook of your elbow to avoid contaminating your hands and the air. When possible, avoid crowds where infections can spread easily, drink plenty of water, and avoid touching your mouth, nose and eyes. If you become ill, stay home so that you do not infect others.
Be well this season!
Caroline F. Hetfield, ANP-BC