Although we're not quite into the flu season, a recent newspaper article reminded me that it is approaching and this is an appropriate time to discuss the importance of getting vaccinated against influenza.
Flu vaccinations should begin around mid-October, according to Dr. Barry Goldman, an internist in the Department of Internal Medicine at Ochsner Clinic Foundation. He recommends that everyone get vaccinated against the flu, especially those older than 65 and those with chronic ailments that impair the immune system, including diabetes and emphysema.
"It's very important to get this done before the start of the winter flu season," Goldman says. There are no side effects to the vaccine, but people with allergies to eggs or mercury may not be able to take it, he says.
Not only do vaccinations prevent the aches and fever normally associated with the flu, they may also help prevent strokes and heart disease. A recent study shows that flu shots given to older individuals -- particularly those between the ages of 60 and 75 -- may have reduced their risk of having strokes. The researchers concluded that antibodies in the flu vaccine may lower stroke risk by protecting against bacterial infections that often accompany the flu.
If you have infants between the ages of 6 months and 23 months, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is "strongly recommending" that you get them immunized, says Dr. Michael Wasserman of Ochsner for Children in Metairie. "Whereas in the past, CDC was encouraging' parents to get their infants and other young children immunized, now they're using stronger language and urging' it," Wasserman notes.
He also says healthy expectant mothers can be immunized safely without endangering their fetus. Caregivers of infants, particularly older siblings and daycare workers, should be vaccinated against the flu as well, he adds.
Flu may be prevented by taking some basic precautions. The most important is to wash your hands thoroughly and often, especially after a workout in a gym where other people have access to the same equipment you use. Your hands may pick up infectious flu germs from a contaminated surface and transport them to susceptible areas that you touch on your face, especially the eyes, nose or mouth. Once the flu germs gain access to your body's internal organs, the infection normally reaches its worst stages. The key to avoiding contact with flu germs is keeping your hands clean and away from your face. Always bring a clean towel to your workouts and use it to wipe the sweat off your face; don't use your hands. Wipe off the surfaces of equipment that are touched by hands, bodies and sweat both before and after each use. Always wash your hands thoroughly before you eat.
If you do get the flu, contact your doctor, eat the right foods, drink plenty of healthy fluids (especially black tea), take the appropriate supplements and get plenty of rest. There are some effective medicines a physician can prescribe, if necessary. Once your immune system has recovered, you'll feel better and be ready to get back into your activity routine again.
There is a common misconception that once we get past Thanksgiving it's too late for flu shots to be effective, but that's not true. Anytime is the right time. Influenza can be a cause for serious concern so don't take it lightly. Get your shots as soon as they become available. &127;
Mackie Shilstone is Ochsner Clinic Foundation's performance enhancement expert. He is the author of two books, Lose Your Love Handles (Perigee Books) and Maximum Energy for Life (John Wiley & Sons). His next book, The Fat-Burning Bible (John Wiley & Sons) is due out in December. He can be reached at (504) 842-9110 or through his Web site www.mackieshilstone.com.