Influenza (the flu) is unpredictable and is one of the reasons for countless hours of loss productivity (missed classes, missed work, trips to the ER, hospitalization, and even death) each year.

The flu can range from mild to severe; the Center for Disease Control estimates that the flu causes about 20,000 children under 5 years to be hospitalized from flu complications like pneumonia.

Even if you are generally a healthy person, you can still get sick from the flu. It can be especially dangerous for young children and children of any age who have certain long term, health conditions, including asthma (mild or controlled), neurological and neurodevelopmental conditions, chronic lung disease, heart disease, blood disorders, endocrine disorders (i.e. diabetes), kidney, liver, and metabolic disorders, and weakened immune systems due to disease or medication. Children with these conditions and children who are receiving long-term aspirin therapy can have more severe illness from the flu. These complications can make chronic health problems worse.

What is the flu?

The flu is an infection of the nose, throat and lungs caused by influenza viruses. These viruses circulate throughout the population and can vary from a mild illness to a life-threatening condition. For most people, it lasts only a few days. The symptoms are cough, runny nose, fever, fatigue, body aches, chills, and headaches.

How does the flu spread?

Flu viruses spread mainly by droplets reaching up to 6 feet when people with the flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or by touching something that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth, eyes or nose. Once contracted, a person can spread the virus to Family and friends, even before showing any symptoms. People with the flu may be able to infect others from one day before getting sick, to 5 to 7 days after. However; people with weakened immune systems can be contagious for a longer period up to 5 to 7 days after sickness.

Preventing the flu get vaccinated

The single best way is to get vaccinated. Everyone should take steps to help prevent the spread of germs to include covering coughs and sneezes with a tissue and throwing the tissue in the trash after use; staying away from people who are sick; washing hands often with soap and water and if soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub. Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth because germs spread this way. When someone in the household is sick, try to keep the sick person in a separate room from others in the home, if possible. Keep surfaces like bedside tables, surfaces in the bathrooms, kitchen counters and toys for children clean by wiping them down with a household disinfectant and throwing tissues and other disposable items used by sick persons in the trash.

Who should get vaccinated?

The flu vaccine is recommended annually for all age groups with the highest risk of complications among children under 2 years, pregnant women, adults age 65 or older, and people of any age with certain medical conditions, such as chronic heart, lung, kidney, liver, blood or metabolic diseases (such as diabetes), or weakened immune systems.

Even if you were vaccinated against the flu last season, you still need a flu vaccine this season because immunity from vaccination declines over time.

Caregivers of children with health conditions or of children under 6 months old should get vaccinated. Vaccination of caregivers, to include pregnant women, is another way to protect children under 6 months.

Research shows that vaccination of pregnant women gives some protection to the baby both while the woman is pregnant and for a few months after the baby is born.

The flu shot always gives me the flu!

Contrary to urban legend, the flu vaccine cannot cause the flu. Very mild, flu-like symptoms after vaccination can mean that your body is responding to vaccination. If you actually get the flu soon after vaccination, you may have been exposed to the virus before getting vaccinated, or during the two-week period it takes the body to gain protection after getting vaccinated.

Flu-like symptoms also can be the result of a non-influenza illness with similar symptoms like rhinovirus (common cold) or other viruses or bacteria that share flu symptoms.

Where can I receive my vaccine?

All active duty Soldiers will be given guidance by their chain of command on how the flu shot will be distributed.

Flu shots will be available for retirees and Tricare beneficiaries beginning Oct. 1, at their Fort Bragg primary care clinic by walk-in. Pediatric beneficiaries who cannot obtain their flu shot from their network provider may obtain their flu shot from any Fort Bragg primary care clinic.

Retirees and adult beneficiaries who cannot obtain their flu shot from their network provider may obtain their flu shot from Allergy and Immunization Clinic. Please call your clinic for hours of operations for influenza immunization 907-2778 (Appt).

Beneficiaries and retirees may also receive the seasonal flu vaccine from a participating TRICARE retail network pharmacy. Call your local network pharmacy to make sure it participates in the vaccine program and has the vaccine in stock.

To find a network pharmacy near you, call Express Scripts at 1-877-363-1303).

What if I have side effects?

The Fort Bragg Regional Vaccine Healthcare Center is available to assist patients and healthcare providers with consultation, diagnosis, evaluation and treatment of health problems after immunizations, VAERS reporting, and medical exemption assessment, if required.

For appointments or questions, contact the Fort Bragg Regional Vaccine Healthcare Center at 432-4015. If medical issues arise after normal business hours or weekend, please contact the DoD Call Center at 1-866-210-6469. Additional information can be found on www.cdc.gov and www.flu.gov.