Health Care Financing Administration: Health Information – Flu and Pneumonia

Health Information – Flu and Pneumonia – Pamphlet

Fight Flu and Pneumonia


What is the Flu? How Serious is it?

Influenza, also called the “flu,” is a highly contagious respiratory infection.

* Symptoms.

Flu can cause fever, chills, headache, dry cough, runny or stuffy nose, sore throat, and muscle aches. Unlike other common respiratory infections such as the common cold, influenza can cause extreme fatigue lasting several days to more than a week. Although nausea, vomiting and diarrhea can sometimes accompany influenza infection, especially in children, gastrointestinal symptoms are rarely prominent. The illness that people often call “stomach flu” is not influenza.

* Spread from person to person.

Influenza is spread easily from person to person primarily when an infected person coughs or sneezes. After a person has been infected with the virus, symptoms usually appear within 2 to 4 days. The infection is considered often contagious for another 3 to 4 days after symptoms appear. Because of this, people used to think the flu was caused by the “influence of the stars and planets.” In the 1500s, the Italians called the disease “influenza,” their word for influence. Each year, an estimated 10 to 20 percent of the population contracts influenza.


Who should get a flu shot?

The following groups are at higher risk for having medical complications from influenza and should receive the flu shot:

* People 65 years of age and older

* Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities housing anyone of any age with chronic medical conditions

* People with chronic disorders of the lungs or heart, such as asthma, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, or cystic fibrosis

* People who are less able to fight infections because of a disease they are born with; infection with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV); treatment with drugs such as long-term steroids; and/or treatment for cancer with x-rays or drugs

* People who have required regular medical follow-up or hospitalization during the preceding year because of chronic metabolic diseases (including diabetes mellitus), kidney diseases and blood cell diseases such as sickle cell anemia

* Children and teenagers 6 months to 18 years of age on long-term aspirin treatment, who, if they catch influenza, could develop Reye’s syndrome which causes coma, liver damage, and death

* Women who will be 6 or more months pregnant or who will have just delivered during the influenza season

In addition, to help protect high-risk people from exposure to influenza, these two groups should receive influenza vaccinations as well:

* Health care workers (doctors, nurses, hospital and medical office staff, personnel of nursing homes or chronic care facilities) in contact with people in high-risk groups

* People–including children–who live with persons in high-risk groups for flu (household contacts)

Some of these same groups should receive one-time vaccination for pneumococcal pneumonia.

The groups at higher risk for invasive pneumococcal disease include those over 64 years old and others with increased susceptibility to this infection, such as patients with HIV, splenectomy, sickle cell disease, diabetes mellitus, chronic disorders of the lungs or heart, and cirrhosis. You can receive this vaccination on the same day that you get the flu shot, and for those covered under Medicare Part B, it is also free when ordered by a physician. However, the pneumococcal vaccine can be given at any time of year and is a once-in-a-lifetime vaccination for most people.

If you don’t have a spleen, or if you have chronic renal failure, HIV, cancer, or other diseases that compromise your immune system, ask your health care provider if a second pneumococcal vaccination is necessary.


Where can I get my free flu shot?

Your flu shot is free, if you are enrolled in Medicare Part B and your health care provider accepts Medicare assignment. The Medicare program covers the flu shot and the cost of administration for beneficiaries. Medicare recipients do not have to pay coinsurance or a deductible under the flu shot benefit. For HMO members, most must get their flu shot from their HMO. Check with your HMO first. For those covered under Medicaid, check first with your local social services or health department. Many private health insurance plans also cover flu vaccine.

You can get a flu shot at your doctor’s office. You may also be able to get a flu shot from your local health department or from other health-care providers. Medicare Part B will pay for the shot no matter where you get it, as long as the health care provider agrees not to charge you more than Medicare pays. To find local health care providers who accept Medicare as payment in full for the flu shot, you can also contact your Medicare Carrier. For the phone number of the Medicare Carrier in your area, see the Helpful Contacts section of this web site. Ask the person giving the shot if there will be any cost to you.

(Note: HMO members may be required to get shots from their HMO. Ask your HMO for more information.)


Why should I get the flu shot?

Here are 5 reasons why:

* The flu is serious business.

Influenza (commonly called the flu) is not just a runny nose or upset stomach. It is a serious illness that can lead to pneumonia. At least 45,000 Americans die each year from influenza and pneumonia, the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. 90 percent of these deaths are among people 65 years of age or over.

* The flu can be very dangerous for people 65 and older.

People 65 years of age or over should get a flu shot, unless they are allergic to eggs. It’s also important for those with a chronic illness, and for those who spend a lot of time around sick or elderly people.

* A flu shot is safe and helps you protect others.

Flu shots are safe and effective. And when you get a flu shot you help yourself and those around you. By avoiding the flu, you avoid giving it to friends and family.

* The flu can make you “blue.”

Even if you don’t develop serious problems, the flu can make you feel bad for days. It can cause fever, chills, headache, cough and sore muscles.

* Medicare Part B pays for it.

When you have Medicare Part B and you get your flu shot from a Medicare provider, you pay no “coinsurance or deductible.” Also, if the person giving the shot agrees not to charge more than the amount Medicare pays, you pay nothing. Medicare Part B also pays for the pneumococcal vaccination. Ask your health care provider about both of these vaccines. (Note: HMO members may be required to get shots from their HMO. Ask your HMO for more information.)


When should I get the flu shot?


Influenza is most common in the U.S. from December to April, so it’s best to get the flu shot from October through mid-November. The vaccine begins to protect you after 1 to 2 weeks.

Do I need a flu shot every year?

Yes. Although only a few different influenza viruses circulate at any given time, people continue to become ill with the flu throughout their lives. The reason for this continuing susceptibility is that influenza viruses are continually changing, usually as a result of mutations in the viral genes. Each year the vaccine is updated to include the most current influenza virus strains. The fact that influenza viruses continually change is one of the reasons vaccine must be taken every year. Another reason is that antibody produced by the person in response to the vaccine declines over time, and antibody levels are often low one year after vaccination.

Uh Oh

I have the flu, what do I do?

Once a person has the flu, treatment usually consists of resting in bed, drinking plenty of fluids, and taking medication such as aspirin or acetaminophen to relieve fever and discomfort. Children with the flu should not take aspirin because of the associated risk of a rare, but very serious illness called Reyes syndrome.

When should I call my doctor?

Call your doctor if you have any signs of the flu and:

* You have breathing or heart problems, or other serious health problems.

* You are taking drugs that fight cancer (chemotherapy) or weaken your body’s natural defenses against illness.

* You feel sick and don’t seem to be getting better.

* You have a cough that begins to produce phlegm and turns wet.

* You are worried about your health and have other questions.

Treating flu with drugs.

Antibiotics are not effective against flu viruses. However, there are two drugs– amantadine and rimantadine–that can be used to treat some types of influenza infection. When taken within 48 hours after the onset of illness, these drugs can reduce the duration of fever and other symptoms and allows flu sufferers to return to their daily routines more quickly. Both of these drugs are only available by prescription.

Rimantadine is a derivative of the drug amantadine. Amantadine, however, is more likely to cause side effects such as lightheadedness and inability to sleep more often than does rimantadine.

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