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TRIBUNE PHOTO: SCOTT KEITH - Dr. Elizabeth Belanger, primary care physician at The Portland Clinic prepares a patient for a flu shot.You’re 25 and you think you’re in perfect health.


You may be thinking that a half-hour trip to the doctor’s clinic or your local pharmacy for a flu shot is a waste of time. Think again. For starters, your flu vaccination may help prevent influenza from spreading throughout your community.

Dr. Joseph Kane, a doctor in the Infectious Disease department of Kaiser Permanente Northwest, said we typically see influenza from December through April or May. He said influenza strains change every year and no two influenza seasons are alike.

“Influenza starts ramping up in our communities, then it’s usually very active, in our area, for about six or eight weeks,” Kane said, noting it’s too early (at press time) to predict whether this will be a mild or a rough flu season.

Influenza isn’t merely a cold that has gone bad. The flu can prove fatal.

“Influenza is an infection that’s due to one of two types of viruses, either type A or type B influenza,” Kane said, adding flu is fairly contagious and is spread by respiratory droplets (sneezing or coughing).

KANE“People get sick pretty quick,” Kane said, adding symptoms can include a fever of 100 degrees or greater, headaches, muscle aches and cough.

“It usually causes a mild illness which resolves over seven to 10 days,” he said. “It can also cause severe illness with complications.” In some cases hospitalization is required.

Dr. Elizabeth Belanger, a primary care physician who works in the internal medicine department at The Portland Clinic, described some complications.

“In extreme cases, people have difficulty breathing,” Belanger said. “Sometimes people can have the viral infection first, then they can get a bacterial pneumonia on top of that.”

Vaccines are available to prevent the outbreak of influenza. They can be offered at doctor clinics, or even at your corner pharmacy. Kane said influenza vaccines are developed each year based on predictions of which influenza strains will be present in our communities.

“Thus, a flu shot is recommended each year,” Kane added.

“In January or February, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the World Health Organization, will decide which vaccine components to include in the next flu season’s vaccine,” Kane said.

“The influenza vaccine prevents influenza by stimulating a person’s healthy immune system,” Kane said. “By stimulating an immune response, which is targeted against the strains of virus in the vaccine, it helps prevent influenza disease, reduces the risk of influenza complications, and reduces spread of influenza to others, if a person is exposed to influenza out in the community.”

COURTESY: KAISER PERMANENTE - A flu shot now could prevent contracting the nasty virus later.You may recall a time when flu vaccines were hard to get due to supply. Kane sees a brighter picture this time around.

According to Kane, “So far, there should be enough influenza vaccine for anybody who wants to get vaccinated. It’s definitely not too late to get vaccinated.”

Kane said yearly flu shots are recommended for everyone six months of age and older who have not previously experienced a severe reaction to the influenza vaccine. Those at increased risk for serious complications from influenza disease include children under age 5 and adults 65 and older. Among others at risk: Women who are pregnant, or within two weeks of delivering, those with chronic health problems (including asthma and emphysema), heart problems, liver problems, kidney problems, blood or metabolic disorders (including diabetes).

Perhaps you’ve heard your neighbor say he or she developed the flu after being vaccinated.

“Some people experience mild, flu-like symptoms, but the flu vaccine does not cause influenza,” Kane said. “Also, there are flu vaccines available for persons with a history of severe egg allergy.”

For those who avoid flu shots because of the dreaded needle, Belanger has some advice.

“It’s just a shot in your upper arm,” she said. “There are options for people who are very worried about needles. There’s nasal spray, but that would depend on your age and other medical conditions. Not everybody can get that.”

As for the flu shot itself, Belanger said, “It’s a very small needle and it’s very quick.”

STATISTICS ON INFLUENZA

Information provided by Dr. Kane

Last year, in the United States, only 47.1 percent of people, six months of age and older, got the flu shot

In Oregon, only 44.3 percent received flu shots last year.

Nationally, about 200,000 people a year, in the United States, are hospitalized from influenza.

Last year, 148 children in the United States died from influenza.

Healthful steps you can take

  • Wash your hands thoroughly
  • Cover your cough; cough into a handkerchief or into your sleeve
  • Avoid close contact with people with flu-like illnesses
  • Stay home if you’re sick
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth, because that’s how the flu virus gains access to your body.
  • Scott Keith is a freelance writer for the Portland Tribune and Pamplin Media Group. If you have a health tip, or a story idea, contact Scott at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..