"Hail, West Virginia," the West Virginia University fight song, is one of my all-time favorite WVU songs. Along with "(Take Me Home) Country Roads,” I always look forward to singing the fight song to help cheer on the Mountaineers. As a fan of social media (I'm a self-proclaimed #tweetiatrician, a pediatrician sharing health info on social media), #HailWV is even one of my favorite hashtags.
As a pediatric hospitalist and adult cystic fibrosis provider at WVU Medicine, the signs of fall also signal something not so fun: flu season.
Influenza, or flu for short, is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It is more common in the fall and winter months, but lasts through the late spring. The virus is passed from person to person, or if someone touches a contaminated hard surface and places his/her hand or fingers in his/her mouth, nose, or eyes. This easy transmission many times leads to the infection spreading through communities rapidly.
Flu symptoms usually include sudden fever (above 100.4 F), body aches and shakes, chills, headache, cough, runny nose, and exhaustion. Illness can be mild, but the flu can also have serious, even fatal, consequences.
Anyone who catches the flu can become seriously ill and could need to be hospitalized for supportive treatment. Certain patients, such as the young, the elderly, and those with underlying breathing troubles or medical conditions that weaken their immune system, have an increased risk of serious consequences from the flu. For my patients with cystic fibrosis, the very young infants I care for at WVU Medicine Children's, or my patients with diabetes, asthma, and COPD, catching the flu may land them in the hospital with severe breathing troubles and serious illness.
Flu can be a tough opponent for patients and healthcare providers. Fortunately, we have a game plan to help us fight it! The best way to prevent you or someone you love from catching the flu is by receiving the seasonal flu vaccine this year – and every year.
Yes, the key to victory when it comes to fighting flu is getting a flu shot.
The best teams have a great offense and great defense, right? Vaccines are safe, effective, and the best way our bodies are able to score immunity (offense) to prevent illness from happening (defense.)
For the 2016-2017 season, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the flu shot. The nasal spray flu vaccine is not recommended this season.
Here are a few commonly asked questions I receive when it comes to the flu vaccine:
Why do I have to get a flu shot every year?
The influenza virus can change each year, with new strains being present. Therefore, the vaccine needs to adapt along with the virus to give us the best chance of preventing illness. Just as a sport team prepares for each season and game differently, to have a winning season against the flu, you need to prepare each year with the seasonal influenza vaccine.
Are there other ways to prevent flu?
The best proven way to prevent the flu is by getting a flu shot. Other important preventive actions include washing your hands, covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, and wearing a mask or staying home if you are sick.
Is the flu vaccine safe?
Yes. All vaccines, flu included, have to go through rigorous testing before they are allowed to be used. Time and time again, vaccines have been proven to be safe. Learn more.
I want to prevent myself and others from getting sick. Where can I get a flu shot?
Many WVU Medicine clinics are offering the flu shot. View the clinic list.
Do you have any more questions about the flu vaccine? Check out these flu FAQs from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Let's #fightflu, Mountaineers: Get your flu shot! Let's Go!
Lisa M. Costello, MD, MPH, is an assistant professor in the Departments of Internal Medicine and Pediatrics at West Virginia University. She serves as the director of the adult cystic fibrosis program in the WVU Medicine Mountain State Cystic Fibrosis Center and is a pediatric hospitalist at WVU Medicine Children's. Connect with her on Twitter @LisaCostelloWV