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Fighting the Flu with Common Sense

The holidays are over and hopefully you survived all the merriment without getting sick. But while the party may be over, the danger is not as flu season peaks during January and February. If you were not diligent in getting your vaccine last October, it is not too late to take action.

Influenza is contagious respiratory illness that can cause mild illness as well as severe illness and even death. The flu season generally runs from October through May and anyone 6 months of age and older should get the vaccine including pregnant women, people with disabilities, people with health conditions and travelers or those living abroad. The vaccine can be administered as a shot or as a nasal mist so there are no excuses for those who fear needles.

There are two different vaccines this year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The traditional version, trivalent, is made to protect against three flu viruses while the new quadrivalent protects against four. Bill Letson, M.D., medical director for El Paso County Public Health says he thinks there will be an emphasis on using the quadrivalent. “It covers one additional B virus and that might make it more effective,” Letson says. “And both are available in a shot or mist.”

Letson says this is where choosing the right vaccine can get complicated. The shot contains dead virus while the nasal version contains a live virus that is engineered to remove the parts of the virus that make people sick. He recommends checking with your health care provider because the live virus is not recommended for some people such as pregnant women.

Influenza is spread through droplets so prevention is dictated by common sense. El Paso County Public Health strongly recommends that you stay home if you are sick. If you come in contact with someone who is sick, wash your hands with soap and water or hand sanitizer. If unavailable, avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth until such time as you can access a disinfectant. If you are caring for someone who has the flu, keep the sick person in a separate area from others in the household and make sure everyone in the home, including the sick person, washes their hands with soap and water frequently.

Vaccines are readily available in the Pikes Peak Region at grocery stores, hospitals, urgent care facilities and local clinics. The easiest way to find the location nearest you is to visit the website www.flu.gov and use the Flu Vaccine Finder widget to plug in your zip code. The finder will pull up several locations and also provide you with the types of vaccines the location offers, as well as pricing, if available. If you prefer to go to a flu shot clinic, call a Pikes Peak United Way community Information specialist free by dialing 2-1-1. The El Paso County Public Health’s Immunization Clinic also offers the vaccine, with pricing dependent upon health care coverage. Call 719-578-3199 to make an appointment.