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Staying healthy during Albuquerque's 2014 flu season peak

H1N1 Influenza Virus Particles
H1N1 Influenza Virus Particles
Photo by NIAID via flickr

The peak of Albuquerque's flu season typically falls between January and March. According to New Mexico dept. of Health 2013-2014 Influenza Surveillance Update, hospitalization rates for those between 18-64 years of age are already higher this year than in 2013, indicating this year's flu season is worse than last year's. This year the prevalent flu strain is H1N1, the same one blamed for the 2009 flu pandemic.

Understanding the flu

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a flu virus, or virion, is a packet of genetic code, not a living organism. Therefore, fighting the flu isn't as simple as administering a medication, like an antibiotic, to kill it.

The flu virus invades a cell in your body and hijacks the machinery used by the cell to reproduce, or make copies of itself. The virus sneaks its own blueprint through this machinery, tricking the cell into reproducing copies of the virus instead of the cell. The virus then kicks this copying into overdrive, quickly filling the cell with so many copies that it explodes, spreading millions of virus copies to other cells in your body. This process repeats many more times, making you sick with the flu very quickly.

The flu virus is airborne, spreading from one person to another mainly by coughing, sneezing, or talking. It can also be spread by physical contact with surfaces that have been touched by someone who has the flu.

To protect yourself from the flu

  • Get the flu vaccine
  • Stay at least six feet away from people who have the flu
  • Wash hands often with soap and water
  • Don't share items like utensils or linens with someone who has the flu

It's easier to prevent the flu than to fight flu symptoms if you catch it. The CDC has conducted and published hundreds of studies on the effectiveness of the flu vaccine. Based on those studies, two facts are indisputable:

  1. Statistically, the flu vaccine is effective in preventing the flu, although the effectiveness varies
  1. The flu vaccine does not make you sick, although there may be mild side effects

Flu vaccine effectiveness depends on several factors, such as the match between the vaccine and seasonal prevalent strains, and the characteristics of the person being vaccinated, such as age and general health.

The flue vaccine works by causing the body to produce antibodies. It takes about two weeks after you receive the vaccination for it to be fully effective. The vaccine is administered as a shot or nasal spray and contains the signatures of the flu strains it's designed to avert. The body recognizes these virus signatures and produces antibodies to fight the viruses they represent. Then, if you catch the real flu virus afterward, the body recognizes the virus and launches an antibody attack to destroy it.

After you get the flu vaccine, you may feel achy for about 24 hours and experience soreness at the place where the shot was administered. This is a reaction from the body as it produces antibodies that protect you from the flu virus.

If you are pregnant, nursing, seeking vaccination for a young child or suspect you already have the flu, contact your regular health care provider. Some people should not receive the flu vaccine. If you are allergic to eggs, have ever had an adverse reaction to the flu vaccine in the past, have been diagnosed with Guillain-Barré Syndrome or ill, seek advise from your regular health care provider before getting the flu shot.

It's not too late to get your flu shot. The best place to get the vaccination is from your regular health care provider. Additionally, the New Mexico dept. of Health provides a flu vaccine update website and vaccine finder database to help you find locations where the vaccine is administered. You can also call the Nurse Advice Hotline at 1-866-681-5872 for help in finding nearest flu shot clinic available to you.

If you already have the flu, there are medications such as TAMIFLU® that can help reduce the flu symptoms and duration. You need a prescription for these medications, so see your regular health care provider as soon as possible if you are experiencing these flu symptoms:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny nose
  • Body aches
  • Headache
  • Tiredness

When in doubt, contact your regular health care provider for more information regarding the flu vaccination.

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