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Flu Season . . . and You

By Nicole Yarab

flu seasonIt’s that time of year again! As fall approaches, and we welcome a change of season, an unwanted guest lurks in every community – the influenza virus. People living with ALS, as well as their loved ones and caregivers, should consider getting the flu shot. However, it is important to talk with your physician to see if you might be a good candidate to receive this vaccination. Generally, the flu (influenza) vaccine is recommended for the ALS community, but for those with certain allergies (eggs) or medical conditions, it may not be advisable.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is important to get the flu shot every year because the influenza virus mutates over time. It takes up to two weeks for your body to build up antibodies to fight the flu after receiving the vaccine. You are at higher risk of contracting the flu if you are not vaccinated.

The Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recommended a change in the composition of the vaccine for the 2013-2014 influenza season. These recommendations match those of the World Health Organization (WHO) and are based on global influenza virus surveillance data, responses to last year’s vaccines, and the availability of strains and reagents, according to the CDC.

Symptoms of the flu are a sudden onset of fever, muscle aches and pains, fatigue and headache. Complications of the flu may include dehydration, sinus infection or bacterial pneumonia. This unwanted visitor will definitely overstay its welcome!

People with ALS often experience a wide variety of challenges related to weakened swallowing and respiratory muscles, including difficulty managing saliva, coughing and clearing secretions. Therefore, it’s imperative to take steps to avoid any respiratory infections, especially the flu.

Your best bet is to get vaccinated before the flu hits your community. Ideal months are September and October. Common side effects of the shot may include mild pain at the injection site, headache and fatigue.  The vaccine is also available in two forms: as an injection, which is made of inactivated virus and as a nasal spray, made of a live but weakened virus. The nasal spray may be troublesome for many people with ALS, due to potential issues with weakened swallowing muscles, thickened secretions and nasal congestion. The injection may be a less stressful and a safer option for people with ALS.

Most insurance plans cover the flu shot, and it is readily available at most primary care offices, ALS Clinics, health departments and pharmacies in your community. While no one looks forward to getting a shot, it can be worth a little discomfort to avoid this nightmare.

A few other simple precautions can make a difference. Whenever possible, avoid rubbing your eyes, nose and touching your face. Wash your hands frequently with soap and warm water or use hand gels when facilities are not available. Try to avoid large crowds and reschedule visits with family and friends who are currently battling a cold or the flu to reduce your risk. For more information on how to protect yourself and your family, go to www.cdc.gov/flu.

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