The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

November 4, 2012

Doctor explains how extreme temperature shifts increase risk of airborne

FrankenFlu

By Lisa Shrewsberry
Lifestyles Editor

— Hurricane-fueled blizzards got you harried? Remember what your mother taught you and put your winter coat on this snow-flocked, not-really-winter-yet weekend, then take a deep breath. Well, maybe not THAT deep.

Contrary to what experts have said in the past to contradict Mother’s anecdotes: “Extreme temperatures can weaken your immune system,” says Dr. Sameh Moawad, M.D., D.O., a family physician in Beckley. What happens when temps go from near record highs in fall to below-freezing Fahrenheit — all in a matter of days?

If you think Frankenstorm was a force to be reckoned with, prepare yourself against the pathogenic backlash of Franken Flu.

“If the flu is serious enough, people can die,” relates Moawad, who believes some people are too lackadaisical about getting vaccinated.

The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by the airborne influenza virus and can be transmitted if someone who is infected sneezes, coughs or talks in an area where others can inhale and contract the virus, perpetuating its spread.

Even normal, healthy people with strong immune systems can develop pneumonia if they are not treated appropriately after contracting the flu virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that between 1976 and 2006, a cumulative low of about 3,000 to a high of about 49,000 people have suffered flu-associated deaths.

Vaccination is the best way to prevent the flu.

“Now is the time to get vaccinated,” explains Moawad.

Flu vaccines, while at urgent care centers and pharmacies, are also being shipped to physician offices, augmenting an army to ward off the illness. In fact, flu season generally encompasses two seasons, fall and spring, with a peak extending from late November through March, necessitating vaccinations as early as September. Meaning, if you’re reading this now and haven’t had your flu shot, you are at risk.

Fall and spring are also the times associated with the most abrupt changes in temperatures, times when Moawad says we are more likely to leave the house inappropriately bundled. The foolproof way to survive a questionable external forecast is to get protected on the inside.

The two types of vaccines available to help are a live attenuated virus delivered via nasal spray and the anti-flu injection, which is not a live virus and poses zero risk of infection associated with administration. Both types of vaccinations against flu have minor caveats, but an overall minimal risk-to-benefit ratio.

The “live attenuated influenza vaccine” or nasal spray is not recommended for patients with weakened immune systems. The spray is a vaccine made with live yet weakened flu viruses and is approved for use in healthy people ages 2 to 49 who are not pregnant. The intramuscular injection is contraindicated in patients who have egg allergies or sensitivity to egg products since the product is cultivated inside chicken eggs.

“Statistics show the number of people who have had a bad reaction to the flu vaccination is not high. There are big benefits to giving the vaccine,” suggests Moawad.

Vaccination against the flu is recommended for patients above 6 months of age and for every adult.

“Many times patients get the flu and don’t get diagnosed,” explains Dr. Moawad. “Some will spend the fall and winter complaining of a cough the whole season that resists treatment with antibiotics. It could be a sub-acute or chronic flu infection.”

— E-mail: lshrewsberry@register-herald.com