FALLS CHURCH, Va. — National Immunization Awareness Month — August — has passed. Are you preparing your family to be safe from influenza?
The flu is coming. The most important step in preventing flu is for the entire family to get a flu vaccination each year.
All active duty service members, Reserve component personnel and Department of Defense civilian health care personnel are required to be immunized against the influenza every year.
But the entire Army family — spouses, children, retirees and other Department of the Army civilians — should plan to get vaccinated as well. In general, children need to be 6 months or older to be vaccinated, but ask your physician.
The old adage — an ounce of prevention — never applied more than it does here. No one wants to catch the flu if it can be avoided. Everyone who has had it knows about the muscle aches and pains, runny noses, sore throats, coughs, fever and headaches. It is highly contagious and dangerous.
The Centers for the Disease Control and Prevention tracked data on the flu for more than 30 years from 1976 to 2007. In those years, the number of deaths from flu in the United States ranged about 3,000 to a high of nearly 50,000 people. Most deaths associated with the flu, between 80 and 90 percent, occur in people 65 years and older. That’s why older retirees need the flu vaccination. Children must also be guarded from the flu and that’s what you do when you get yourself vaccinated. Reducing your risk for flu reduces their risk as well.
Although anyone can get the flu — even healthy people — some people are at higher risk of developing serious flu-related complications. In addition to people 65 years or older, this higher risk category includes people of any age with chronic medical conditions (e.g., asthma, diabetes, or heart disease), pregnant women and young children.
Bacterial pneumonia, ear infections and sinus infections are also possible consequences of the flu.
Vaccination is associated with lower rates of some cardiac events among people with heart disease and reduced hospitalizations for people with diabetes and chronic lung disease.
The CDC does not recommend this year’s FluMist product. Concern exists as to whether it protects against the expected flu for the winter of 2016-2017. DoD will only offer — and Tricare will only cover — the injectable influenza vaccine for the 2016-17 influenza season.
The DoD anticipates no shortage of influenza vaccine at military medical activities. Civilian Tricare beneficiaries, including family members and retirees, can get the influenza vaccine from military installations, but checking in advance to make sure the vaccine is available could save time.
This brings us right back to the most important point: the greater the number of people who get vaccinated against the flu, the lower the likelihood flu can spread through the community — including to your family.
Flu vaccination also reduces the risk that someone in your family might need hospitalization and reduces the risk for hospital admission for adults of all ages, especially adults 50 or older and for children.
Flu vaccination also may make your illness milder if you do get sick.
Vaccination helps protect women during pregnancy and their babies for up to 6 months after they are born.
Preventive actions (staying away from people who are sick, covering coughs and sneezes, and frequent hand washing) help slow the spread of flu viruses and other illnesses. Hand sanitizers can help, too.
Flu season runs from October until May. If you or a family member gets the flu, stay home, stay hydrated and stay safe. And when flu shots are available, encourage your family members to get vaccinated right away.