Erin Bills Contributor

It’s the middle of October, and we’re
on the brink of another epic season.
Not ski season, but the upcoming
flu season. According to the Center
for Disease Control and Prevention, 5-20 percent of the population
gets the flu. Epidemiologically speaking,
this is a big deal. With the peak of
both the flu and ski season in February,
October is the ideal time to get an
annual flu vaccine
to prevent
lost days that
could have been
spent working,
learning or skiing
this winter.
Influenza, commonly known as the
flu, is a viral infection that typically
targets the pulmonary system. The
influenza virus is one of the most
contagious viruses known. The CDC
has identified three different types of
the influenza virus; Types A, B, and
C. Type A is considered to cause the
most severe infections and includes
the H1N1, H1N2 and H3N2 viruses
which have been responsible for flu
pandemics—an epidemic or outbreak
spanning several continents—in recent
years. Type B can also cause epidemics,
but these infections are usually
considered milder than Type A. Type
C viruses can cause a mild respiratory
infection but not an epidemic. Thus,
the influenza vaccine prevents against
Type A and B viral infections.
Knowing the difference between a
common cold or the flu can be tricky.
Both illnesses are viral infections with
similar symptoms, but flu symptoms
are usually more severe. Important
symptoms of the flu to note are
high fever, significant muscle aches,
headache, and a nonproductive cough.
Influenza infections are also characterized
by sudden onset of the symptoms
described above. These symptoms are
also characteristic of the common cold,
but it’s important to remember that
flu symptoms usually develop rapidly
and are much more severe. Symptoms
suggesting the common cold instead
of the flu could include sneezing, a
runny nose, sore throat, and a mucus
producing cough.
If you or a family member develops
severe symptoms of the flu, it’s always
a good idea to consult your primary
health care provider. An accurate
diagnosis of an influenza infection can
be made with a simple test, which requires
a swab of the nose. The results
can be available in minutes. Physicians
and health care providers may offer
medications to certain individuals depending
on the type of influenza virus
and the duration of symptoms. These
medications don’t cure influenza, but
may reduce the severity and length of
the illness. Of course, prevention with
a flu vaccination is the best way to
avoid the flu (and a visit to the doctor).
Every fall a new seasonal flu vaccine is
released because the flu virus mutates,
or changes yearly. This is why it’s
important to receive an annual flu
vaccine. The 2011/2012 seasonal flu
vaccine prevents
against three different
strains of
influenza; 2009
Type A (H1N1),
Type A (H3N2),
and the Influenza
Type B virus. Epidemiological
surveillance conducted
by the CDC suggests that these strains
are the most common for the current
seasonal flu forecast. The seasonal flu
vaccine is recommended for all individuals
six months of age and older.
Those at increased risk of getting the
flu and developing severe complications
include pregnant women, children,
the elderly, and those who may
be immuno-compromised. Getting
vaccinated against the seasonal flu is
strongly encouraged for these populations.
It’s also important to remember
that by receiving the vaccine yourself,
you help protect these populations
from the virus. Additional precautions
such as washing hands with soap and
water, using an alcohol-based hand
sanitizer, sneezing or coughing into
your sleeve or crook of your arm, and
avoiding touching your eyes, nose and
mouth can reduce the risk of spreading
the influenza virus.
The seasonal flu vaccine is available at
the Big Sky Medical Clinic, Bozeman
Deaconess Hospital, and many other
private and public health clinics in the
region. You may also find a flu vaccine
location near you by accessing
where you live.
Prevention is the best way to avoid the
flu. In addition to good hygiene, hand
washing and limiting contact with sick
individuals, the flu vaccine is a safe
and effective way to reduce the risk
of getting the flu. Stay healthy during the upcoming flu and ski season.