By Rose Klein Greene Publishing, Inc. Flu season (November through May) is here and signs of it have been all over Madison County. Flu’s proper name, Influenza, is a highly contagious viral infection that attacks the respiratory system (nose, throat and lungs) and can cause mild to severe symptoms, even death. Milder symptoms of flu could include cough, sore throat, runny nose, body aches, headaches, fatigue and fever. More severe complications could include bacterial pneumonia, ear and sinus infections, dehydration or worsening of chronic medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes and congestive heart failure. It is no wonder that Madison County residents have suffered with effects of the flu as the CDC (Center for Disease Control) has stated that flu activity has been most intense in the south central and southeast part of the country this season. There have been confirmed deaths in Columbia County and in South Ga. Also reported were numerous reports of severe respiratory illness among young and middle-aged adults during November through December of 2013. Typical individuals at risk of flu and its complications are young children, people 65 years and older, pregnant women, people with a compromised immune system and people with certain health conditions such as asthma, diabetes and heart disease. Flu is unpredictable and how severe it is can vary from one season to the next. One of those variables is the type of flu circulated. Most of the viruses characterized so far this season have been from the 2009 H1N1 viruses, also called swine flu, which was named such because in the past, people who caught it had direct contact with pigs. However, that changed several years ago when a new virus emerged that spread among people who hadn’t been near pigs. While the CDC can’t predict which viruses will predominate for the entire season, they have said that if H1N1 continues to circulate widely, illness that disproportionately affects young and middle-aged adults may continue to occur. Multiple H1N1 associated hospitalizations have occurred this season, with some requiring intensive care. In fact, 98 percent of the hospitalizations, where flu was laboratory confirmed, were the result of H1N1. Fatalities have also been reported, including a total of 10 pediatric deaths. H1N1 is spread the same as seasonal flu, by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk, which then land in the noses or mouths of people who are nearby. It can also be passed by touching surfaces or objects such as doorknobs and telephone receivers used by persons with the virus. Most people know that the virus can spread to others while a person is showing signs and symptoms of the flu, but the virus can also be spread one day before flu symptoms even develop and up to five to seven days after being sick, 10 days for children. If by now you’re wondering what you can do to prevent yourself from getting the flu, the CDC recommends yearly flu vaccinations as the best protection and all of the vaccine options for the 2013-2014 flu season include protection against H1N1. The flu vaccine causes antibodies to develop in the body about two weeks after vaccination. These antibodies provide protection against infection with the viruses that are in the vaccine. That means that although health officials gather data to determine which flu strains are most likely to be present for the current flu season and develop flu vaccines accordingly, there is a chance a person could still catch the flu, if a different strain is present. Flu shots are still recommended however, because the percentages of that happening are small and studies show that when the flu vaccine is given to healthy young adults, it is 70 to 90 percent effective. In the elderly, the flu vaccine is very effective in reducing hospitalization and death from flu-related causes. There are two types of the flu vaccine: The first type of vaccine is the live attenuated vaccine called LAIV that is sprayed into the nose. “Attenuated” means it is weakened so that it can’t make you sick. Side effects of the LAIV vaccine in children and adolescents 2-17 years of age are runny nose, nasal congestion, cough, fever, headache, muscle aches, wheezing, abdominal pain and occasional vomiting or diarrhea. Side effects in adults have been runny nose, nasal congestion, sore throat, cough, chills, tiredness, weakness and headache. Severe side effects are possible, but rare, and consist of very high fever, severe allergic reaction and behavior changes. LAIV can be given to people 2-49 years of age, who are not pregnant. People who should not get this vaccine are those who have ever had any severe allergies, people with a history of Guillain-Barre Syndrome or those who have received any other vaccines in the past four weeks. The second type of vaccine is the inactivated vaccine, meaning it does not contain the live virus. This vaccine is recommended for people who are pregnant, have a weakened immune system, have certain long-term health problems (asthma, diabetes, heart disease), children or adolescents on long-term aspirin therapy, in close contact with someone who needs special care for an extremely weakened immune system, children younger than two years old or older than 49 years old. (Children six months and older can get the flu shot but children younger than six months cannot get either vaccine). Side effects from the flu shot include pain or soreness at the injection site, low-grade fever, headache, feeling tired, sore or achy muscles and itching or redness at the injection site. If you’re trying to weigh out the odds on getting the flu versus getting the flu shot, there are pros and cons of receiving the vaccine. Pros of the flu shot is that it can decrease the risk of upper respiratory illness by 25 percent, thereby reducing work absenteeism by 36 percent and doctor visits by 44 percent. It helps the chances of the elderly avoid unpleasant and possibly dangerous illness and protects against their being hospitalized for heart disease and stroke. It protects those at higher risk for the flu to avoid complications from the virus, including death. Cons of the flu shot are that it contains mercury from thimerosal, a preservative added to prevent bacterial contamination. Mercury is toxic to the brain, nerve cells and arterial linings and has been linked to an increase in the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, memory loss, depression, anxiety, ADD, heart disease, hypertension and birth defects. Dr. Hugh Fudenberg, the world’s leading immunogeneticist, states that if an individual has had five consecutive flu shots, his or her chances of getting Alzheimer’s disease is 10 times higher than if they had one, two or no shots. Just as there are obvious pros and cons of the flu vaccine, there are obvious risks of the flu virus. Flu can make some people much sicker than others and can lead to pneumonia, making existing medical conditions worse and cause seizures in children. Each year thousands of people in the U.S. die from the flu, and many more are hospitalized. Flu vaccine is the best protection from the flu and its complications and helps to prevent the spread of flu from person to person. To learn more about the flu or flu vaccine, you can talk to your doctor or local health department. The Florida Department of Health in Madison County has flu shots available to children under the age of 19, for free and to adults for $10. You can contact them at (850) 973-5000. You can also get more information from the CDC by either calling 1 (800) 232-4636 or visiting their website at www.cdc.gov/flu.