Don’t roll the dice

Late fall means the coming of the holidays, cold weather and the inevitable flu season.

Every year in the U.S. between 5 and 20 percent of the population gets influenza.

But for those who take the proper steps to protect themselves from the flu in the way of a vaccine, their chances of becoming sick decrease.

“It actually is very important to get your flu shot,” said Dr. John Viteritti, medical director, Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania. “It’s treating something to prevent it from happening.”

Viteritti said influenza season has already begun, even if there is yet to be a flu outbreak.

Pharmacies, stores and various organizations began offering flu shots as early as September.

This year, there is plenty of flu vaccine available, Viteritti noted.

And now is a great time to get a flu shot.

It takes about two weeks after a vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body that protect against influenza virus infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The flu is a highly contagious respiratory infection caused by influenza viruses.

The virus becomes airborne when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

People can get the flu if they touch a contaminated surface such as a telephone or doorknob and then touch their noses or mouths. The risk of infection increases in highly populated areas such as schools, buses, and crowded urban settings.

One vaccine is good for an entire season which usually lasts from October to May.

January and February are usually the peak periods for the flu, noted Viteritti.

Flu shots are recommended for anyone six months and older.

However, those who are most at-risk of complications from influenza are strongly advised to be immunized.

They include people 65 and older, children under 5, pregnant women and those with chronic conditions such as heart disease, asthma and cancer.

“That’s the reason we target them,” Viteritti said.

About 23,600 people annually die from flu-related causes.

Viteritti noted that becoming sick from the vaccine is not a reality.

Nor, he said, should people fear having children vaccinated for fear of autism.

“There is no scientific correlation between flu vaccines and autism,” he said.

In addition to having a vaccine, people should take other precautions to avoid the flu.

Proper hand washing is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of flu and other types of infections.

Viteritti said those who become infected should take steps to isolate themselves from the public.

Flu symptoms include muscle aches, headache, chills, tiredness, coughing, fever, and runny nose (more common in children than adults).

Going to work or school and coming into contact with others only helps spread the flu.

It’s best, he said, for anyone infected to just stay home.

And while home, get plenty of sleep and rest and drink plenty of liquids, he added.