It’s Flu Season: Take Care!

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By OTP Staff

We’re at the beginning of the flu season and the NYC Department of Health recommends that most people over the age of six months should be vaccinated against the spread of the influenza virus. This is, first of all, to provide personal health and it also affects the health of all folks around you in an ever-widening circle of protection against transmission for the entire community.

We spoke with Dr. Michael Augenbraun, Chief of Infectious Diseases at Kings County Hospital, about the flu virus and the vaccination, which some are wary of. Dr. Augenbraun stated (categorically) that because there is no live flu virus in flu shots, they cannot cause the flu.

While there is a possibility of getting the flu even after being vaccinated, the effect will be transient and the impact will be muted.

The influenza virus is spread mainly through coughing, sneezing and close contact, although there can be some transmission from surface to hand as well. We asked Dr. Augenbraun if someone at the ATM–just before you coughed on the keys or used a subway pole after coughing into their hand–is it possible for the virus to be transmitted? He said it is possible, but only for a short while and that the use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers is an excellent way to prevent transmission and provides sterilization for up to two hours.

The Kings County emergency room is seeing an increase in the number of cases coming in and because the virus is so easily airborne and contagious, patients presenting flu symptoms are isolated from the general emergency room population and with the rapid diagnostic tools available, a determination can be made in hours. Separation is necessary because people with chronic illnesses are at high risk as any other health problems they have will be exacerbated by the flu virus affecting all of their bodily systems.

The doctor reminds us that the influenza vaccines work against the influenza virus only and are no defense against the common cold. Also, having a common cold should not preclude a vaccination. “Pregnancy and the flu are a bad combination,” said Dr. Augenbraun, and pregnant women should get vaccinated. Also, children are at high risk of contraction because of their close contact at an age when hygienic practices are not top-of-mind. If they are not vaccinated themselves, they can bring the influenza virus home, where it can make the rounds of an unvaccinated family.

Regarding the popular Tamiflu, the doctor says it is an effective drug and is not a cure, but it can reduce the duration of illness if taken immediately after the onset of symptoms and can act as a prophylactic if taken immediately after an exposure.

Ideally, everyone would be vaccinated, providing what health practitioners call “herd immunity” protecting the elderly and the infirm.

Note: The official name for Kings County Hospital is NYC Health + Hospitals/Kings County.

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