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Q: Could you update us on the coming flu season?
A: Fortunately, no shortage of flu vaccine is expected this year.
Flu-related complications kill 36,000 people annually in the United States, so getting a flu shot is valuable insurance.
A shot is required each year because flu viruses can change fast. The current vaccine is based on these changes.
The optimal time to get a flu shot is during October and November. It's recommended that high-risk individuals and people who might transmit the virus to them get a flu shot beginning in October, followed by the general population beginning in November.
High-risk groups include:
-Those over age 50.
-Residents of nursing homes and other such facilities.
-Adults and children over 6 months old with asthma or other chronic heart or lung conditions.
-Adults and children over 6 months old who need regular medical care due to conditions such as diabetes and heart disease, chronic kidney disease, or a weakened immune system (caused by medication or HIV infection, etc.).
-Children and teenagers (ages 6 months to 18 years) on long-term aspirin therapy. (Flu increases the risk for a serious condition called Reye syndrome in those taking aspirin.)
-Women who will be more than 3 months pregnant during the flu season.
-People who might transmit the flu to high-risk individuals (due to close contact): doctors, nurses, and other employees in hospitals and medical clinics, including emergency response workers; employees of nursing homes and long-term care facilities who have contact with residents; caretakers of high-risk individuals who live at home or in assisted living residences; and household members (including children) of people in high-risk groups.
Because even healthy kids who get the flu are at increased risk for hospitalization, a flu shot is now recommended for healthy children 6 to 23 months old.
Children under 9 years old receiving a flu shot for the first time should get it in October because they will need a booster shot a month later.
Who should not get a flu shot? Talk with your doctor if you:
-Are allergic to hen eggs (used in manufacturing the flu vaccine).
-Have had a severe reaction to the flu shot.
-Have previously developed Guillain-Barre syndrome shortly after getting a flu shot.
It should be understood that the flu vaccine is made with killed viruses and cannot cause the flu.
A flu vaccine in nasal spray form is available this year. Called FluMist, it's an alternative to the needle stick method, but its use is limited to healthy persons 5 to 49 years old.
An important reminder: Get a pneumonia shot if you've never had one.
Bacterial pneumonia claims more lives than the flu each year. It can be given at the same time as the flu shot.
(Richard Harkness is a consultant pharmacist who writes on health care topics. You can write him at 1224 King Henry Drive, Ocean Springs, MS 39564. His e-mail address is email@example.com. Volume of mail prohibits individual replies; selected letters will be answered in his column.)
(c) 2003, The Sun Herald (Biloxi, Miss.). Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.