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Be Prepared for the Seasonal Flu and Pertussis

To reduce your chance of getting the flu, a contagious respiratory illness, you should get a flu vaccine every year.  The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that people that are in a high-risk health category or people who care for those with high risk health problems should get vaccinated. It takes two weeks for immune protection to fully develop after vaccination. The 2013-2014 vaccine protects against three influenza viruses (H1N1, H3N2 and Influenza B) that are different from those in last season’s vaccine.
CDC also recommends getting a pertussis vaccination. Pertussis also known as “whooping cough” is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by the bacterium bordetella pertussis. It is known for uncontrollable, violent coughing which often makes it hard to breathe. After fits of many coughs, someone with pertussis often needs to take deep breaths which result in a “whooping” sound. The best way to protect against pertussis is to get vaccinated. There are vaccines for infants, children, preteens, teens and adults. The childhood vaccine is called DTaP, and the pertussis booster vaccine for adolescents and adults is called Tdap. Talk to your healthcare provider about getting vaccinated against pertussis.

At Risk Groups

Anyone can get the flu, but some people are more likely than others to have other health complications when they get the flu. Some of the high risk groups of people are listed below:

The VA and the Seasonal Flu Shots

October is the beginning of the annual seasonal flu immunization program at the VA.  At this time, the recommendation is for patients with MS to check with their health care provider about getting the seasonal flu vaccine.  Health care providers should discuss the two types of seasonal flu vaccines available and help their patients make an informed decision about the most appropriate vaccination for them. 

Presently, there are two types of seasonal flu vaccines available: the injection and the nasal spray.  At this time, only one type of flu vaccine is recommended for people with MS. 

Recommended for people with MS:

The vaccine that is recommended for people with MS is the traditional seasonal flu vaccine that is delivered by injection, known as the “the flu shot”.  This type of flu shot contains an inactivated form of the virus that is shown to be effective and safe.

Not recommended for people with MS:

The other seasonal flu vaccine that is not recommended for people with MS is a vaccine delivered by a nasal-spray.  This type of flu vaccine contains a live form of the virus and currently there are no studies indicating effectiveness and safety for people with MS.  At this time it is recommended that people with MS do not use this form of the seasonal flu vaccine.

What’s Next?

Check with your health care provider…

  • To determine if you are in the high risk category for getting the seasonal flu vaccine.
  • About the two types of vaccinations that are available.
  • About your eligibility for the pneumonia vaccine.
  • About your eligibility for the pertussis vaccine also known as whooping cough.
  • To set up an appointment with your local medical center for a flu shot.

Health Tips

The seasonal flu season generally begins in the fall and is active until early spring.  During the last seasonal flu season, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported that respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus was the major factor in the hospitalization of over 200,000 people, and 36,000 people died from flu complications. The CDC notes that the seasonal flu vaccine is one method to guard against getting the flu, and other methods include good “respiratory etiquette” and “good health habits”.

Be proactive in your health care and consider the following tips to help control the spread of colds and flu:

  1. Remember to cover your mouth and nose with your hand and/or tissue when coughing or sneezing.
  2. Be sure to dispose of the tissue, and then wash your hands thoroughly.  It is recommended to wash your hands with warm water and soap for a minimum of 10 to 15 seconds. Rinse thoroughly and dry. You should wash your hands often with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  3. And if possible, consider staying home until you have recovered from the illness. 
  4. Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.
  5. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth.

More Information

More Information
Use the following web sites to learn more about vaccinations: the seasonal flu, pneumonia and pertussis vaccinations.
VA Website for Public Health and Environmental Hazards
Centers for Disease Control Flu Key Facts
Centers for Disease Control: “Take 3 steps to fight the flu” brochure
National MS Society:

Date posted: October 2013