A fever above 100 degrees, lack of appetite, a sore throat, body aches and an overall miserable feeling.
These symptoms, while commonly known, should still be taken very seriously.
Influenza, or the “flu,” is a severe and potentially dangerous illness that leaves thousands of Americans bedridden every year and in some cases, proves fatal.
“The flu is a highly contagious respiratory infection that can cause serious complications, hospitalizations and, in some cases, even lead to death,” said Margaret Khoury, MD, regional lead, Kaiser Permanente Southern California Flu Vaccination Program.
“It’s important that everyone 6 months of age and older get a flu vaccine as soon as it becomes available in their area. While children, pregnant women and the elderly are more at risk for complications from the flu, it can be just as serious for healthy young adults.”
Each season, the flu leads to thousands of hospitalizations and deaths in the United States.
There have been as many as 49,000 deaths and about 200,000 hospitalizations from flu in the U.S. in a single year. During the 2014-2015 flu season, there were 55 deaths attributed to influenza in Los Angeles County. Many were older adults, but people of all ages died from flu-related complications.
The flu has claimed two lives in California: a 65-year-old woman and a baby younger than 1-year-old, as reported by the state Department of Public Health on Nov. 6. Both victims resided in Northern California. Dr. Karen Smith, California Public Health Officer, noted that these recent deaths are a somber reminder of the dangers of influenza.
“As California’s public health officer, I am saddened when the flu turns into loss of life,” Smith said. “It is especially troubling when a baby, too young to be vaccinated, passes away. To protect babies who cannot yet be vaccinated, we should get our flu shots. Preventing the spread of this often deadly disease is why getting vaccinated is so important.
“That’s why I urge you to get your flu shot. By getting vaccinated, you can keep yourself healthy and stop the virus from spreading to others. Now is a good time to be vaccinated before the flu really spreads widely,” Smith said.
Flu season (October through March) is already here. Who should get the inoculation? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), everyone 6 months of age and older should get a flu vaccine every season — especially young children, seniors, or those who may have other ailments that weaken their immune system.
However, there are exceptions. Those who shouldn’t be vaccinated include babies under six months, people with severe allergies against ingredients in the vaccine, and those with a history of Guillain-Barre syndrome.
“By getting vaccinated now, you can protect yourself and help stop the spread of flu this season,” said Jeffrey Gunzenhauser, MD, MPH, Interim Health Officer for Los Angeles County. “Flu viruses are constantly changing and different viruses can spread each season. It’s important to get this season’s flu vaccine to help protect you from the types of viruses that are expected to be most common this season.”
Getting the vaccine may not stop you from getting influenza completely. But it can reduce the impact of the flu including missing work or school for doctor’s visits, as well as prevent flu-related hospitalizations.
Many people object to receiving the flu shot because of rumors that it would make you sick, or sicker if you get the illness.
Those beliefs are unfounded, says a physicion at Panorama City Kaiser Permanente hospital, who asked that her name not be used because she had not asked permission from the public relations department.
“The flu shot is not going to make you sick. In fact, it might prevent you from getting sicker,” the doctor said. But she cautions that while the vaccine is good against several strains of the virus, “it does not cover all strains.”
Generally, a seasonal flu vaccine’s effectiveness ranges from 25 to 60 percent, according to the CDC. The flu virus mutates constantly, and fast, and the vaccine is manufactured based on the previous year’s prevalent strains.
This year’s flu vaccine may have more strength than in years past, however.
Health experts note that the influenza virus is not mutating as fast as last year. That means this year’s vaccine could be more effective in protecting you against the disease.
The sooner you get inoculated, doctors say, the better because it takes two weeks after the shot for your body to develop flu anti-bodies.
Here’s What You Need to Know About Influenza
Flu symptoms usually start suddenly and may include fever, coughing, sore throat, headaches, body aches, chills, runny or stuffy nose, extreme tiredness, and weakness. Most people get better without treatment, but some develop serious complications such as pneumonia, seizures, and worsening of chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and lung disease.
If you start feeling flu-like symptoms, the best thing you can do is stay at home. In most instances, they will not develop into serious complications and will go away on their own after a few days of rest. Avoid contact with well people in your house so you won’t make them sick. Drink plenty of water and other clear liquids to prevent dehydration.
However, if you get very sick, are pregnant or are 65-years-old or older, or are in high risk of flu-related complications, call your doctor. You may need antiviral drugs to treat the disease. These drugs are different than antibiotics. Antiviral medicine are prescribed by your doctor and are not available over-the-counter.
The best way to prevent the spread of the disease and getting it in the first place is to wash your hands often, avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth and having contact with people sick with the flu.
Most insurance plans cover vaccines at no cost to the patient. Many pharmacies also offer flu vaccines and some can bill your insurance company.
Residents without health insurance or a regular source of health care can be vaccinated at a Public Health Center or community vaccination event at no charge. No appointments are needed.
To find the nearest clinic where you can get a free flu shot, call 2-1-1.
Where You Can Get Flu Shots in the San Fernando Valley
Los Angeles County Immunization Program Provider Referral
These clinics provide no cost or low cost immunizations to children 18 years of age and younger. Children 12 years of age and older may consent to receive HPV and hepatitis B vaccines. For all other vaccines, parental consent is required. Please call to confirm which immunizations are provided and to check the clinic’s hours. Bring your child’s immunization record (yellow card), if you have one. If you have health insurance or a regular health care provider, please contact them for immunization services.
El Proyecto Del Barrio
8902 Woodman Avenue
7107 Remmet Avenue
Canoga Park, 91303
Valley Community Center
6801 Coldwater Cyn., Avenue, #1-B
North Hollywood, 91605
Pacoima Health Center
13300 Van Nuys Blvd.
1600 San Fernando Road
San Fernando, 91340
Sun Valley Health Center
7223 N. Fair Avenue
Sun Valley, 91352
Van Nuys Peds
7138 Van Nuys Blvd.
Van Nuys, 91405
For a complete listing, visit http://www.publichealth.lacounty.gov/ip/IZclinics/clinics.htm.