Now is the time to prevent influenza, an illness that often has fatal consequences. According to the Centers for Disease Control, influenza was responsible for 36,000 deaths each year during the 1900s, up from 19,000 per year during the 1970s. In my opinion, that is far too many preventable deaths.
In an ideal world, all of those at high risk for complications from influenza would be vaccinated during October or November because that is when the vaccine is most effective. In my ideal world, all of those who are at high risk would know who they are. However, I know a great deal more education needs to be done. So, here is a list of those at highest risk of developing complications from influenza:
• All adults age 65 and older;
• Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities that house people who have long-term illnesses;
• Adults age 50 to 64 who suffer from one or more chronic health condition;
• Adults and children age 6 months and older who need regular medical care or were recently hospitalized because of metabolic diseases like diabetes, chronic kidney disease, or a weakened or compromised immune system;
• Adults or children age 6 months and older who have heart or lung conditions such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or chronic heart failure;
• Health care workers;
• And women who will be more than 3 months pregnant during the flu season.
Studies show a yearly influenza vaccination results in fewer influenza-related respiratory illnesses, physician visits, missed days of work or school, hospitalizations and deaths. Even so, were not always successful at getting those at high risk to their doctors office or vaccine clinic.
During the 2001/2002 flu season, the CDC estimated the vaccination rate was 70 percent among non-Hispanic whites, 52 percent among non-Hispanic blacks, and only 47 percent among Hispanics. Hopefully, through greater education efforts, we can help spread the word about the life-saving benefits of a yearly influenza vaccine to all the residents of the Rock River Valley. This life-save message needs to be heard by more people.
If you are in a high risk group, please call your primary care physicians office or your local county health department for more information whether the vaccine is right for you.
Dr. Rachel George, Director of Hospitalist Services at OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center.