How you can flee from the flu this season Haven't decided if you will take the flu shot this season? You might want to consider whether you can spare a week or two to battle the flu. Five to 20 percent of Americans are sidelined with the flu every year, and some develop severe complications. Much more than an inconvenience, the flu sends about 200,000 Americans to the hospital every year and claims 36,000 lives. The best thing you can do to protect yourself and those around you is to get a flu shot. Flu season typically runs from late December through March. So, if you receive your shot in the upcoming months, within two weeks, you'll be protected. Influenza, or "the flu," is caused by a virus that attacks the respiratory tract – the nose, throat and lungs. It's similar to the common cold but with symptoms that are much more severe – fever, headache, muscle aches and a feeling of being totally wiped out. While a cold may cause you significant misery, the worst is usually over within a week or 10 days. With the flu, the symptoms may linger and get worse. In addition to the flu shot, which is made with killed viruses, there is a nasal spray made with live, weakened flu viruses. Both are effective, and neither vaccine will cause the flu in someone who doesn't have it, although they may bring about some minor symptoms such as soreness, a low-grade fever and minor aches and pains during the first few days. Early in the season priority is given to persons at high risk of complications: • Anyone over age 65, and particularly those with chronic medical conditions, • Persons living in long-term care facilities, • Patients with chronic medical conditions such as heart disease, asthma, diabetes, kidney disease or a weakened immune system, • Women who will be pregnant during the flu season and • Children 6 to 23 months of age. In addition, anyone living in close contact with a high-risk person – including health care workers and home health aides – should be certain to have an early flu shot. Even if you're not on the high-risk list, you can and should get vaccinated. The only people who should not get a flu shot without consulting a physician are those with a severe allergy to chicken eggs and those who developed a severe reaction or Guillain-Barre syndrome following a previous flu vaccination. Children under six months should not be vaccinated. And if you're sick with a fever, you should postpone getting a shot until you're feeling better. There are numerous variants and strains of flu virus, and the ones included in the vaccine change each year according to worldwide surveillance and scientists' estimates about which types and strains will be most prevalent. Other measures you can take to protect yourself from the flu and other respiratory ailments include: • Steering clear of persons who are sick, • Staying home yourself when you have coughing, sneezing, runny nose and other symptoms, • Covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when you sneeze or cough and then throwing that tissue away, • Washing your hands with soap and water frequently, and • Avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth, particularly after you touch something that could be contaminated. If you've been exposed to the flu virus, it takes one to four days for symptoms to appear. You'll be able to infect others starting one day before you show symptoms and for an additional five or six days after you become sick. The FDA has approved four antiviral drugs for the treatment of the flu: oseltamivir (Tamiflu), rimantadine (Flumadine), amantadine (Symadine, Symmetrel) and zanamavir (Relenza). If taken within two days of becoming sick, these drugs can reduce symptoms, shorten the illness by a day or two and make you less contagious. Amantadine, rimantadine and oseltamivir have also been found effective for preventing the flu. By far the best approach is to get your flu shot every year. A Swedish study concluded that flu vaccination reduced overall deaths among elderly persons by 15 to 20 percent during each flu season. Sanford Vermillion has received its influenza vaccine supply for the 2008 season. Numerous flu shot clinics have been scheduled at the medical center and at various locations throughout the community beginning in mid-October. Watch for ads in this newspaper or check the Sanford Vermillion Web site, www.san fordvermillion.org, for upcoming flu shot clinic dates and locations. A fee of $20 will be charged for the adult flu shot. Please bring your Medicare card to the flu shot clinic to insure proper billing, or you may pay by cash or check. Once again this year, the South Dakota Department of Health is offering free flu vaccines for children from 6 months to 18 years of age. Sanford Vermillion will host two special children's flu clinics to administer the free shots. Letters with more information will be sent to the parents or guardians of all Vermillion School District students. The free children's vaccine will also be available at the public flu clinics.