October is the first month of flu season, that wonderful germ-filled time that stretches until May, but peaks between December and February here in Maryland.
Pass us a Kleenex, please.
So far, more than a dozen cases have been reported in the state, says Darcy McCarty, a senior practice manager with MinuteClinic. Last year, Maryland experienced a moderate flu season, she says. And while there have been some reports about a rough flu season this year in other parts of the world, it’s too early to characterize the season here.
“That’s not something I’d hang my hat on,” she says.
What truly makes for a bad season, McCarty adds, is when patients disregard warnings and do not get a flu shot.
“That’s when we see those complications,” she says, adding that children who experience severe flu symptoms or even die from the complications usually have not received the vaccine for that year. Patients often ask if a vaccine is not 100 percent effective against the flu, “what’s the point.” But the vaccine prevents the flu from being a more severe case, she says.
Who should get a flu vaccine? Anyone older than six months of age, she says, adding that if it’s a child’s first time receiving the vaccine, he or she will need a booster shot four or more weeks later.
Adults over 65 need to receive a higher dose of the vaccine as well. “As we age, our immune system becomes less responsive,” she says.
There is a common misconception that receiving the flu vaccine can actually cause someone to contract the flu. “That kind of steams me a little bit,” McCarty says. The vaccine does not contain a live virus and cannot cause the flu in any patient. Most likely that person came into contact with the virus during their day-to-day of going to work, running errands or other activities and before the vaccine took full effect.
“That’s why we tell people to get the vaccine early,” she says. The vaccine’s antigen signals the body’s immune response, but full immunity doesn’t happen right away.
Her other advice for this time of year: “Rest, wash your hands, cover your cough, sneeze in your elbow and wash your hands before eating.”
In summary, “it’s communicable disease season,” she says.