Flu season in sight, but it’s not too late for flu vaccine

by Capt. Venita Ramirez and Chuck Roberts
86th Aerospace Medicine Squadron and Landstuhl Regional Medical Center Public Affairs

Got a flu shot?

If not, the bad news is that the flu season in the U.S. started early and activity remains high, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 28,000 cases have been reported in the U.S. since Sept. 30, including 20 pediatric deaths.

The good news is two-fold: Flu activity has been relatively low to medium throughout Europe, and it’s not too late to get a flu shot. Plenty of flu vaccine is still available at Army and Air Force medical treatment facilities.

Although flu activity is moderately low, the level is expected to increase, said Lt. Col. Kathi Hill, chief of preventive medicine for Landstuhl Regional Medical Center and the Europe Regional Medical Command consultant for Army Public Health Nursing.

“Currently, we are not seeing any unexpected numbers, but peak influenza season for Europe is February through March, so there’s still plenty of time for people to get their flu shot,” Hill said.

The odds are in favor of those who receive this year’s vaccine. The CDC reports that people who have been vaccinated are 62 percent less likely to become ill enough with flu symptoms to see a physician, compared with those who have not been immunized.

Flu can cause severe illness and complications in the elderly, young children, people with chronic health conditions, and with immune systems that are compromised. The influenza hospitalization rate in the U.S. is 8.1 per 100,000 people, which is high for this time of year.

Is it the flu or a cold?
Because colds and flu share many symptoms, it can be difficult to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone.

In general, the flu is worse than the common cold. Flu symptoms include a fever or feeling feverish/chills (not everyone with flu will have a fever), cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, and fatigue (tiredness). Some people may also have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.

How can I protect myself and my family from the flu?
The best way to protect yourself is by getting the seasonal flu vaccine each year. The vaccine protects you against the most common flu strains. Wash your hands when you’re sick or when you have close contact with sick people. When you cough or sneeze, don’t cough into your hands; use a tissue and throw the tissue away. If you do become sick, stay home so you don’t infect others around you.

Remember, anyone can get the flu, so it’s important to take the proper steps to protect yourself and your family this flu season.

As a reminder, the flu vaccine is available to active-duty members and all beneficiaries. Vaccines are given on a walk-in basis during normal business hours at the Ramstein Immunization Clinic and the Landstuhl Immunization Clinic.

The Ramstein Immunization Clinic is open from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. The Landstuhl Immunization Clinic is open from 7:30 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. Otherwise, contact your local health care provider or health clinic for immunization clinic times.