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More MS news articles for February 2004

An Influenza Vaccine Primer

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January 1, 2004
Teresa Campbell
Real Living with Multiple Sclerosis

IN THE UNITED STATES, influenza (the "flu") usually occurs from about November until April, with activity peaking between late December and early March. The optimal time to be vaccinated is during the months of October and November, but according to CDC (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), it's still clinically beneficial to receive a flu shot through December and January.

More than 130,000 people are hospitalized every year because of the flu. And about 36,000 people die every year from flu-related complications like pneumonia. When someone gets the flu, it hits quickly and hard. Symptoms may include fever, body aches, chills, fatigue, cough, sore throat, and headache. Medical bills and missed days at work add to the cost of being ill.

Those who are at highest risk for the flu are people over 65 years of age, children aged 6 to 23 months, nursing home residents or people who live in chronic care facilities, adults and children with chronic diseases, pregnant women in the second or third trimester, and health care industry workers. Even if a person isn't at high risk for contracting the flu, Dr. Emily Senay, medical correspondent on the CBS Early Show, said that it's still a good idea to seek protection. Having the flu vaccine will also help physicians to eliminate influenza as a possibility when trying to diagnose SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome). Multiple sclerosis is a chronic disease but the Multiple Sclerosis Society doesn't have a policy recommending flu shots for individuals with the disease. Instead, each case is referred to the individual's health care provider to determine if the injection is indicated. The neurologist is most knowledgeable of the individual's MS status and if the flu vaccine would be beneficial.

Two years ago there was a shortage of flu vaccine, but this year there is an ample supply. Medicare part B and many insurance plans will pay for the flu injection. Newspapers often list the time and location where flu shots are available. Steve Wright, national director for Maxium Health Systems, one of the nations leading flu shot providers has established http://www.findaflushot.com

Individuals simply type in a zip code and the site will provide the locations closest to their home, along with each site's distance in miles, phone number, address, and location hours. My flu shot was received at a department of public health clinic for $5 and it was given as soon as I signed the short form given to me by a nurse. The injection was given in my arm, and I was instructed to take a Tylenol pill that night to avoid any discomfort that might occur. I didn't have any discomfort and I slept well. I knew that it would take weeks for immunity to develop. I also knew that the flu vaccine has to be given every year for immunity to occur because the virus can change from year to year.

One important warning that everyone needs to know: chicken eggs are used as part of the flu vaccine production process, so people who are allergic to egg protein shouldn't receive the vaccine. Less than one-third of those who receive the flu vaccine will experience some soreness at the injection site, and only 4% to 10% will suffer mild adverse effects, such as low-grade fever and headaches.

A few medicines-amantadine, rimantadine, zanamivir, and oseltamivir- are available that can shorten the severity of the flu, but they're expensive and have to be taken early in the course of the disease. Most other treatments are for the symptoms of the flu while the disease runs its course.

For people who don't like to get injections, a new option may be available for some. In June 2003, the Food and Drug Administration approved Flu Mist, a flu vaccine that's sprayed into the nostrils, for healthy people between the ages of 5 and 49. This vaccine isn't for everyone, so please contact your health care provider for complete information.

For more information, visit the CDC's Web site at http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/diseases/flu/fluvirus. htm

This article contains information from the CDC, the Medical College of Wisconsin Healthlink Publication, and CBS News Video.

Advisory Board Note: The injectable flu vaccine has been shown to be safe for people with MS. The new nasal flu vaccine, unlike the injectable one, contains live virus in a weakened form. Because viral infections potentially trigger MS attacks, it is advisable that MS patients be immunized with the injectable vaccine.
 

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