“Mid-September is usually the best time to get a flu shot, but it’s never too late,” says David Condoluci, DO, Chief Patient Safety & Quality Officer for Kennedy University Hospital, Stratford, NJ. “If you haven’t gotten the flu, and you see it out there in other parts of the country—usually there are TV news reports—it’s really never too late to get it.”
Dr. Condoluci recommends that vulnerable populations get a flu shot by November or December at the very latest. “Typically,” continues Condoluci, “the flu starts at the end of December, and goes into January, February and March here in the East. You’ll see when it hits. There will be high absence rates in schools and the hospitals will be overflowing with patients with pneumonia. Every year it’s a little different because it depends on the strain.”
According to Flu.gov, in addition to children and pregnant women, the following people are at increased risk:
• People with disabilities
• People with health conditions
Seniors are at high risk because as people age, their immune systems weaken and in this population, the flu can be very serious, even deadly. 90% of flu-related deaths occur in those age 65 and older. There are two options for vaccinations in this age group: the regular dose and the high-dose which results in a stronger immune response. Talk to your doctor to determine which one is right for you.
Some people with disabilities are susceptible to the flu because of exposure to sick caregivers. Additionally, if mobility is limited or communication is impaired, a person with disabilities should receive a flu shot.
People with health conditions like: arthritis, asthma, cancer, diabetes, heart disease and HIV/AIDS are highly susceptible to the flu and should receive the shot. For those with arthritis, for instance, many anti-inflammatory medications can weaken the immune system. The list includes:
• steroids like Prednisone and Medrol
• DMARDs like Trexall and Rheumatrex
• Biologics like Enbrel, Remicade and Humira
According to the Infectious Diseases Society of America based in Arlington, VA, what the flu is not is a cold or stomach illness. What the flu is, “is a viral respiratory infection that typically, although not always, causes fever (100-102 degrees F for several days), severe aches and pains, exhaustion, coughing, sore throat, congestion and runny nose.”
Of special concern are those who live in long-term care like a nursing home or assisted living facility. Notes Dr. Condoluci, “This can become a major problem because many residents are in closed quarters plus they’re very debilitated.” A simple thing like proper hand washing is the first line of defense against this and all other infectious illnesses. Dr. Condoluci encourages family members to be advocates for their loved ones in long-term care. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions if something doesn’t look right. If the caregivers are not washing their hands between patients or not wearing gloves when they should be, be proactive. Talk to the person in charge of the area or the nursing supervisor or administrator if you’re not satisfied with the care that your loved one is getting.”
1. Interview with David Condoluci, DO, Chief Patient Safety & Quality Officer for Kennedy University Hospital, Stratford, NJ. www.kennedyhealth.org/leadership/274-david-v-condoluci-do.html
2. Flu.gov: www.flu.gov
3. Infectious Diseases Society of America: www.idsociety.org/Flu_Facts/