It is getting to be that time of year again. Children are back at school, and leaves are starting to fall from the trees. The beginning of flu season is just around the corner. Now would be a good time to get your annual flu shot. And you may want to think about a pneumonia vaccine to help prevent pneumococcal infections that can cause pneumonia, meningitis and blood infections.
"The best time to get your vaccination is in September or as soon as the vaccine becomes available because infection-fighting antibodies that provide protection against the flu generally take about two weeks to develop in the body," said Dr. Michael Reschak, internal medicine specialist on staff at Des Peres Hospital.
"But even if you wait until December or later, a flu shot may still help prevent illness since the flu season can last until May. It is important to remember that a vaccination does not offer complete protection against illness, but it is 70 to 90 percent effective for healthy adults. Even if you do get the flu after being vaccinated, you are at less risk of developing flu-related complications such as pneumonia, heart attack or stroke."
The flu vaccine is available in two forms – a shot and nasal spray. Check with your doctor to see which type is best for you or your children. While you may experience side effects from a vaccination, a flu shot does not cause the flu. An annual vaccination is recommended because strains of flu virus change from year to year.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone over the age of 6 months receive an annual flu shot. Certain groups of people are at higher risk of developing complications from the flu or may spread the disease to people at high risk, including:
- Pregnant women
- Children younger than 5, but especially children younger than 2 years old
- People 65 years of age and older
- People of any age with certain chronic medical conditions
- People who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
- People who live with or care for those at high risk for complications from flu, including:
- Health care workers
- Household contacts of persons at high risk for complications from the flu
- Household contacts and out of home caregivers of children less than 6 months of age (these children are too young to be vaccinated)
The vaccine should not be given to people who currently have a fever, had a previous allergic reaction to a vaccine, developed Guillain-Barré syndrome, or are allergic to chicken eggs.
"Certain at-risk groups also should receive a vaccine against pneumonia, which kills more Americans than all other vaccine-preventable diseases combined," said Dr. Reschak.
The CDC recommends the pneumonia vaccine for anyone over age 65, adults ages 19-64 with chronic diseases such as lung, heart, liver or kidney disease, those with asthma or diabetes and any condition that would weaken the immune system. If you currently smoke, you may want to talk to your doctor about the pneumonia vaccine.
The pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine protects older children and adults against 23 types of pneumonia-causing bacteria within two to three weeks after vaccination. The one-dose shot also is recommended for people who have long-term health problems or a lowered resistance to infection.
The pneumonococcal conjugate vaccine is approved for children under the age of two. The vaccine is routinely given to children in four doses at the ages of two, four and six months, and then between 12 and 15 months of age. The vaccine may be given to children up to five years old who have not already been vaccinated or are at high risk of serious pneumococcal disease.
Both a flu shot and pneumococcal vaccine can help avoid illness, but neither can guarantee that you will not get sick.
"If you want to stay healthy this fall and winter season, remember to wash your hands regularly; stay away from people who are ill; avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth; and get your flu and pneumonia shots," reminded Dr. Reschak.