Maria Walls

Fall is officially here. Unfortunately with the cooler temperatures and colorful leaves comes sneezing and stuffy noses. Every year there are things we can do to protect ourselves, and it’s a good idea to brush up on the latest advice, courtesy of Nurse Practitioner Maria Walls, a member of BJC Medical Group who practices at Missouri Baptist Medical Center.

It’s that time again. Pharmacies and clinics are promoting the flu shot. Yet every year there are people who refuse to get vaccinated. What are people's primary concerns, and what would you tell them to allay their fears?

Patients’ primary fears tend to be that they think they get the flu from the flu vaccine and that they never get the flu, so why should they get the vaccine? Patients cannot get the flu from the flu vaccine. Some people do experience an immune reaction afterward, which can cause some aching, fatigue and even [a] low-grade fever. This is by no means the flu. Also, although a patient may rarely get the flu, getting the vaccine is important so that they do not. It also helps to protect our most vulnerable patients – elderly, small children and immunocompromised patients.

What is the time frame in which people should get a flu shot, and are there age parameters or other recommendations that people should be aware of?

The start of flu season varies, but we usually start seeing our cases start in October. We recommend to start vaccinating in mid-September. It is recommended that people of all ages get the flu vaccine [but especially those] with children younger than 5, pregnant women and elderly [as they are] at the highest risk for complications.

Each year the flu vaccine is slightly different to protect people from the influenza strains that scientists expect will be most common. How many strains are covered by the flu shot?

The World Health Organization is recommending vaccination for four flu strains in the northern hemisphere this season.

Some people claim that the flu shot is just a "shot in the dark" when it comes to which strains of influenza will infect people, and therefore it's not worth bothering with a vaccine. Can the flu shot help prevent or decrease the symptoms of a strain of influenza that isn't specifically covered by the vaccine? Can it help reduce the chances of getting a cold or a flu-like illness?

Studies show that the flu vaccine reduces risk of contracting influenza by 40 to 60 percent. Matching flu virus strains is definitely one factor that affects effectiveness but also characteristics of the person being vaccinated can affect it as well. Those that are vaccinated may have decreased symptoms if they do contract the flu and be at lower risk for complications. It would not decrease the chances of getting a cold.

If someone does get a the shot and still comes down with what they think is the flu, what should they do? When is it time to go to the doctor?

Symptoms of flu include quick onset of high fever (more than 101 degrees), dry cough, fatigue and body aches. If you develop these symptoms stay hydrated, rest and contact your primary-care provider. If you are having any concerning symptoms, such as shortness of breath or worsening of your symptoms, be sure to see your primary-care provider or go to an urgent care center for evaluation.

Are there any really effective home remedies you recommend for people with cold or flu symptoms?

The best home treatments for flu are staying hydrated and rest. Some over-the-counter medications may help to relieve some of your symptoms.

What are other ways we can reduce our chances of getting sick?

Frequent hand washing is the single most important thing you can do to reduce your chances of getting flu or any other infection. We should be washing our hands each time we use the restroom, before we eat and frequently throughout the day.

If you could give our readers just one piece of advice for staying healthy through cold and flu season, what would it be and why?

The best advice for reducing your chances of getting sick are getting adequate sleep, staying hydrated, eating healthy, staying active and managing your stress in a healthy way.

Connie, a native of St. Charles and graduate of the MU School of Journalism, is a freelance writer and editor who contributes to print and online publications for clients throughout the country. She has one husband, two teenage sons and three cats.

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