JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas — Autumn is just a few weeks away, the time of year when oppressive summer heat gives way to cooler weather.
It’s also the time of year when flu activity begins, reaching its peak in January or February, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
However, people need not suffer any of the symptoms associated with the flu, including fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose and muscle aches; the flu vaccine offers the best protection against the illness, 359th Medical Group health care professionals said.
“A yearly flu vaccine for everyone 6 months of age and older helps protect against influenza,” Lt. Col. (Dr.) Yi Yang, 359th Medical Operations Squadron director of immunizations, said. “It is designed to protect against the three main flu strains that are expected to cause the most illness during the flu season.”
The three main strains are H3N2, influenza B and H1N1.
The safety of the flu vaccine – which is available in injectable and nasal-spray forms – is closely monitored by the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration, but there may be minor side effects associated with the vaccine such as pain at the injection site, fever, sore throat and a runny nose, Yang said.
The CDC describes the flu as a “contagious disease caused by the influenza virus that can be spread by coughing, sneezing or nasal secretions.” The flu, which affects 5 to 20 percent of the U.S. population, can cause severe illness and life-threatening complications in many people.
Populations at higher risk for flu-related complications include pregnant women, young children, people 50 years of age and older, people with chronic medical problems and health care workers.
Yang said it’s important to receive the flu vaccine as early as possible – when the vaccines are available – because the influenza season can begin as early as September. He also said the severity of the flu season cannot be predicted; it varies from year to year.
Department of Defense policy requires immunization of all active-duty and Air Reserve Component members against influenza; if these members are located on an installation with a medical treatment facility, they must receive their vaccine through the local MTF.
In addition, TRICARE Prime’s reimbursement program entitles Air Force beneficiaries to receive influenza and pneumococcal vaccines at TRICARE retail network pharmacies at no additional cost.
JBSA-Randolph health care professionals said it’s important that beneficiaries who receive these vaccines provide the MTF with documentation of the vaccines to ensure accurate records; they should hand-carry, scan and email, or fax their immunization record to the clinic.