CDC says colder weather increases flu risk

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Winter does not officially begin until late December, but the dramatic drop in temperature and the snow expected to hit the area Thursday could be the beginning of winter weather. With the change in weather comes the increased risk of illness, particularly a cold or the flu.

For that reason and others, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) labeled this week, Nov. 27 through Dec. 3, National Influenza Vaccination Week. According to the CDC Web site, October and November are the best months to get vaccinated, though being vaccinated in December or even later can still be beneficial, since most flu activity occurs in January.

"Now is definitely a good time to get your flu shot," Bourbon SEK-Multi County Health Director Alice Maffett said. "The fluctuating temperatures tend to be harder on people."

Flu vaccinations at the county's public health office, 221 S. Judson St., cost $30. Walk-ins are welcome on Mondays, while appointments must be made for vaccinations throughout the rest of the week.

There are two types of flu vaccinations, according to the CDC. The first is the flu shot, which is approved for use in people six months of age and older, including healthy people and those with chronic medical conditions.

The other type of vaccine is the nasal-spray flu vaccine, which is made with live, weakened flu viruses that do not cause the flu. It is often referred to as LAIV, which stands for Live Attenuated Influenza Vaccine. LAIV is approved for use in healthy people, ages 5 to 49 years, who are not pregnant.

Maffett said this time of year is when more cases of respiratory illnesses are reported, the flu being one of them. The flu virus can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. In the united States, according to the CDC, more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu complications and about 36,000 die from the flu each year. In some cases, the flu can spread through communities, creating an epidemic in which many members of that community become ill.

Common symptoms of the flu include fever, headache, sore throat, runny or stuff nose, muscle aches and stomach symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, among others.

Along with weather changes, Maffett said the flu is a distinct threat this time of year because of the holiday season, which usually leads to large numbers of people being in close contact in places such as shopping malls, parties, etc. She said it is a time of year that people like to be out and about, even if they aren't feeling well.

"People just don't stay home," Maffett said. "They go out, even if they are sick. People do more shopping this time of year. So, certainly, you want to be cautious, because you are more exposed to it."

Tips to prevent the spread of respiratory illness include the following:

* Wash hands often with soap and water.

* Avoid close contact with people who are sick.

* Should one get the flu, stay home from work, school and other social gatherings.

* Try not to touch the eyes, nose or mouth, as germs often spread that way.

Getting plenty of rest, drinking lots of liquids and avoiding alcohol and tobacco use are also suggested practices for those who have already contracted the flu. Taking medication to relieve flu symptoms is suggested, however aspirin should not be given to children or teenagers who have flu-like symptoms without first speaking to their doctor, due to the possible danger of Reyes Syndrome.

Maffett said people should be aware of the weather and dress accordingly.

"Dressing appropriately for the temperature is important," she said, "because we can be caught off guard. Being prepared is very important."

For more information about preventing or treating the flu, contact Maffett at (620) 223-4464 or visit the CDC Web site, www.cdc.gov.