LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. — Cooler weather and browning leaves harken the onset of autumn, but so too does a runny nose and sore throat.
Influenza is a contagious disease that spreads around the United States every year, typically between the months of October and May, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The flu is most often spread by coughing, sneezing or close contact,” said Senior Airman Cassandra Saunders, 56th Medical Operations Squadron aerospace medical technician. “You touch your nose, you touch your mouth, and then you touch something that someone else touches and they touch their nose or mouth and suddenly you’ve just spread the disease.”
A variety of symptoms are brought on by the flu, including fever, chills, sore throat, muscle aches, fatigue, cough, headache, and runny or stuffy nose. Many of these symptoms are common in other illnesses; however, and can make the flu difficult for untrained individuals to diagnose. Additionally, the flu can lead to more dangerous conditions like pneumonia and blood infections, and can even cause diarrhea and seizures in children.
“The influenza virus can actually be deadly, especially for young children, or elderly patients, or anyone whose immune system is compromised,” said Staff Sgt. Justin Banghart, 56th MDOS allergy and immunizations NCO in charge. “It should not be confused with the common cold. A lot of people say when they get sick, they have the flu. If that were actually the case, a lot more of these people would be ending up in a hospital.”
As the flu season begins to sweep across the nation in full effect, the Air Force is stepping up its efforts to combat sickness and maintain a healthy and ready fighting force. These efforts are among the top of the 56th Medical Operations Group’s priorities, where MDOS Airmen are preparing to fight the flu through both a campaign for awareness and a drive to vaccinate as many base personnel and community members as possible.
“The flu vaccine is no different from any other vaccine,” Banghart said. “A vaccine is an inactivated virus. We expose your immune system to it and then your body attacks it and produces antibodies against it that will later allow your body to kill live virus. That’s how you gain immunity.”
The flu is spread by many different Influenza viruses, some more common than others, and most of them constantly changing. Fortunately, the MDOS is equipped to counter this threat.
“We carry the quadrivalent vaccine, which protects against four of the strains of the influenza virus which are predicted to be the most prevalent this season,” Banghart said.
In combination with healthy sanitation practices like washing your hands often and covering your mouth when sneezing or coughing, getting a vaccination is one of the most important things you can do to help prevent the spread of the flu.
“Getting vaccinated will not only protect you, it will protect others as well,” Saunders said. “If you get the disease, chances are good you’ll pass it on to someone else too. There are immuno-compromised people out there who can’t get the vaccine, say because they are on chemotherapy treatments, and you’re putting them at risk by not getting the vaccine.”
Each year, thousands of people in the United States die from the flu. The CDC recommends that everyone receive a dose of flu vaccine each season.
“Don’t be afraid of the needle,” Saunders said. “It’s better to get poked once by a needle now to build immunity than to have to get poked and prodded repeatedly for bloodwork, and medication, and IVs in order to combat the disease after you’ve contracted it.”