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We are all “faces” of influenza

The importance of annual immunization against the flu

By Luis Rodriguez, M.D.

Maria getting vaccinated, photo courtesy of Rostros de la gripe campaign

It is that time of year, as it is every year, when you and your family should get immunized against influenza, if you haven’t already. Influenza, commonly called the “flu,” is a serious respiratory illness, especially among the Hispanic community. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as many as 9.5 million Hispanic Americans will suffer from influenza in an average year.

To spread the word about the seriousness of influenza, and the importance of annual vaccination to help keep Hispanic Americans healthy, the American Lung Association has launched its Spanish-language, influenza-education initiative, “Rostros de la gripe,” in collaboration with Sanofi Pasteur.

About influenza immunization

We all are “faces” of influenza. Many of us in the Hispanic American community have stories to tell about how we or our loved ones have been affected by the flu. I want to encourage families to help protect themselves from influenza by getting vaccinated against the flu every year. Plain and simple, vaccination is safe and effective, and the best way to help prevent the flu. The CDC recommends that everyone six months of age and older be immunizedagainst influenza each and every year. In addition, parents need to know that the CDC also recommends that children 6 months through 8 years of age who receive a flu shot for the first time may need two doses approximately one month apart for the best protection. 

Even though these recommendations are regularly communicated to all of us, the nation’s immunization rates continue to fall short of public health goals each year. In fact, only 40 percent of Hispanic Americans received their influenza vaccination last flu season. This rate is alarmingly low, especially because Hispanic Americans are at greater risk for developing influenza-related complications due to high rates of certain chronic medical conditions like asthma and diabetes. This makes the need for annual influenza immunization for Hispanic Americans that much greater.  

Flu shots are especially important for people who are at higher risk for developing influenza-related complications, including those who are:

  • 50 years of age and older
  • Pregnant 
  • Have certain chronic medical conditions, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart disease, diabetes and others
  • A resident of a long-term care facility or nursing home

Additionally, you should get immunized if you come into close contact with anyone in a high-risk group, not only to help protect yourself against the flu, but also to help avoid spreading the disease to more vulnerable people. With vaccination options available for all age groups – children, adults and seniors – you should talk with your health care provider to find the option that’s right for you and your family this season.

There are a few groups of people, however, who should not get the vaccine, or should first talk with their health care provider. They are:

  • People with severe allergies to eggs 
  • People who have had a severe allergic reaction to a past influenza vaccination
  • Children younger than 6 months of age, because no vaccination is licensed yet for this age group 

Influenza symptoms

Many people confuse the flu with other illnesses. To help you correctly identify the flu, you should know that its symptoms include fever (usually high), headache, extreme tiredness, dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose and muscle aches. Stomach symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, also can occur, but are more common in children than adults. If you do get sick, it’s a good idea to wash your hands, cover coughs and sneezes, and stay home from school or work to help prevent the spread of influenza.

Complications of influenza 

As mentioned earlier, there are times when the flu leads to other, more serious conditions.  These complications can include viral or bacterial pneumonia and the worsening of chronic medical conditions, such as asthma, congestive heart failure and diabetes. Children may experience sinus problems and ear infections.Hispanics have higher rates of chronic conditions like asthma and diabetes, which may put them at an increased risk for developing serious complications from influenza. You can help avoid getting and spreading the flu by getting vaccinated annually.

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This Article appears on the November 2012 issue of LPM under Health

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