This year, five to 20 percent of the U.S. population will get the flu, a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. The effects vary, but more than 200,000 people are hospitalized with flu complications and at least 36,000 people die from flu each year.
Symptoms of flu include high fever, headache, extreme fatigue, dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle aches, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
“Some people, such as the very old, the very young, and those with certain health conditions, are at high risk for serious flu complications,” said Steven Silber, MD, vice president for medical affairs at NYM. These complications include bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections, dehydration, and aggravation of chronic medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure, asthma, or diabetes.
Flu viruses spread mainly from person to person through coughing or sneezing by the infected individual. Patients become contagious and may infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to five days after becoming sick, so it’s possible to get the flu from someone who appears healthy.
The single best way to prevent the flu is to be vaccinated each year, either with a flu shot, an inactivated vaccine that is given with a needle, or with the nasal-spray flu vaccine, a vaccine made with live weakened flu viruses that do not cause the flu. “The Centers for Disease Control now recommends that all children, six months and older be vaccinated against the flu,” said Pramod Narula, MD, chairman of pediatrics at NYM. Pregnant women, people over 50 years of age, people with certain chronic medical conditions, residents of nursing or long-term care facilities, health care workers, caregivers, or others who want to decrease their chance of getting the flu, are among people who should receive an annual flu vaccination.
The duration of the influenza season may vary, but doctors recommend that the yearly flu vaccination should be given in September or October; however, it may still be useful to be vaccinated as late as in December or January.
To find a physician affiliated with New York Methodist Hospital, call 718-499-CARE (499-2273). New York Methodist Hospital also has several family health centers that offer a full range of services including flu vaccination.
These satellite facilities are located in Mapleton, 718-259-6122; downtown Brooklyn, 718-783-0070; Flatbush, 718-284-4440; Canarsie, 718-209-0888 and Red Hook, 718-834-8202. The hospital also offers an “after-hours” pediatric service, open weekday evenings at 263 Seventh Avenue, across from the main hospital campus in Park Slope. For more, call 718-246-8543.