screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-12-38-29-pmThe flu shot may be the most effective way to prevent or reduce the impact of influenza during the yearly flu season. But it is not always convenient. Just ask the Ritchie family.

“I work in healthcare so we are required to get yearly flu shots,” says Natalie Ritchie. “My son Zachary was an October baby, so he gets his flu vaccine during his annual check-up. It’s not as easy with our daughter, Sabrina, who sees her pediatrician each spring. Or my husband, who doesn’t have access to flu shots through his job.”

When the Ritchie’s children were infants, the family asked everyone around the kids to be vaccinated for the flu.

“The best way to protect the kids is to make sure everyone else around them is protected from the flu, too,” Ritchie says.

Despite knowing the importance of flu vaccines, the Ritchie kids are growing and life continues to get more hectic. It’s easy for a family’s flu shot priority to slip.

“My kids are in daycare full time,” Ritchie says. “If it’s going around, I figure someone here is going to get it.”

And that is exactly what happened recently as the flu bug made its way around the entire family. Early statistics suggest that this year’s flu season could be as severe as last year. When facing a foe like the flu, a strong offense is the best defense. The influenza vaccine, or “flu shot,” should be combined with frequent hand washing, staying away from others if you’re sick, coughing into your elbow rather than your hands, maintaining a healthy diet and getting enough sleep.

“We strongly recommend that everyone age 6 months and older get their annual flu vaccine,” says Jane Forni, manager of infection prevention at IU Health West Hospital. “Physician’s offices and pharmacies began providing flu shots in September. Since, it takes about two weeks for your body to build up its immune response to the flu, the sooner you get your flu shot the better. But it’s not too late.”

Children and people over age 65 have a high risk of developing serious symptoms from the flu and should be vaccinated as soon as possible. This group also includes those with asthma, diabetes or chronic lung disease. Anyone who lives or works with these populations should also receive the vaccine in order to help protect the people around them.

Influenza is a contagious respiratory illness that can cause mild to severe illness, and can even lead to death. The flu is different from a cold and usually comes on suddenly. People who have the flu often feel some or all of the following symptoms: feeling feverish/chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headaches, fatigue and more. Some people may even experiencing vomiting and diarrhea, though this is thought to be more common in children than adults.

“We are not trying to eliminate the possibility of children getting the flu by encouraging flu shots,” says Dr. Rebecca Dixon, Riley Pediatric Hospitalist and Chief of Pediatrics at IU Health West Hospital. “We are trying to avoid the complications of the flu: secondary bacterial infection, exacerbation of underlying illnesses such as asthma, extreme dehydration, and even death. None of us want our children to get sick, and most of us would say we would rather be sick ourselves than see our children feel awful. But even more than that, we would never want our children to be severely harmed by something we could have prevented.”

Ritchie learned the family was battling the flu when toddler Sabrina was at her pediatrician’s office. Dr. Jason Cosgrove diagnosed the flu and started antiviral medication. If you think you have the flu, it’s important to see your primary care physician as soon as possible as there is a short window for antiviral medication to be most effective.

The timing of flu season is unpredictable and can vary from year to year, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Flu activity most commonly peaks in January or February. However, seasonal flu activity can begin as early as October and continue as late as May. Each year, more than 200,000 people in the United States are hospitalized by the flu.

The Ritchie’s get flu vaccines early in the season now.

“I know we have to make it a priority,” Ritchie says, “or it will slip through the cracks again.”

Flu shots are available at primary-care offices and select retail pharmacies throughout Hendricks County, including the pharmacy at IU Health West Hospital. While supplies last, low cost flu shots are available through the Hendricks County Board of Health during scheduled walk-in clinics. Call (317) 745-9222 for more information.

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