What You Should Know About the Flu — A Chat with the CDC’s Angela Campbell, MD

Flu season is here. And to help us prepare for what the season may bring, we were lucky enough to get a few minutes with Dr. Angela Campbell, a medical officer in the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Influenza Division.

To welcome Dr. Campbell to the blog, we started out with one of our favorite questions.

Angela Campbell, MD

Angela Campbell, MD

Q: In a few words, what does Total Health mean to you?

A: Total health means caring for myself physically, intellectually, and spiritually, and working to sustain and improve the health of others.

Q: How does influenza vaccination factor into that view?

A: To me, influenza vaccination is an important component of caring for my own physical health – it is something I choose for myself every year. I am also passionate about encouraging flu vaccination for those whom I love, for my patients, and for the U.S. public at large. Flu is a serious disease that can lead to hospitalization and sometimes death. Even healthy people can get very sick from the flu. Because every flu season is different, it’s important to do what you can every year to protect yourself and those around you – and the first and most important line of defense against the flu is getting a yearly flu vaccination. Flu vaccination can keep you from getting sick from flu and, by protecting yourself from flu by getting vaccinated; you’re also protecting the people around you who may be more vulnerable to complications from flu illness.

Q: What is NIVW?

A: NIVW stands for National Influenza Vaccination Week, which was December 7-13 this year. CDC established NIVW in 2005 to highlight the importance of continuing flu vaccination throughout the holiday season and beyond. Flu vaccination coverage estimates from past seasons have shown that flu vaccination typically drops near the end of November, so this is a time to stress the important reminder that as long as flu viruses are circulating, it’s not too late to get your flu vaccine.

Q: Really? Is it worth getting your flu vaccine in December or even after the New Year?

A: Yes! Flu activity most commonly peaks between December and February, but can continue as late as May, so it’s not too late to protect yourself as long as flu activity is ongoing. In fact, even unvaccinated people who have already gotten sick with flu this season can still benefit from getting vaccinated since the flu vaccine protects against three or four different flu viruses (depending on which flu vaccine you receive) that are expected to circulate each season.

 Q: Can flu be more serious for some people than others?

A: Yes. CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine for everyone 6 months and older; however, vaccination is especially important for protecting those at high risk for serious flu complications, including young children, pregnant women, people with certain chronic health conditions like asthma, diabetes, or heart and lung disease, and people age 65 years and older. Pneumonia and bronchitis are examples of flu-related complications that can result in a hospital stay or sometimes even death. The flu can also make chronic health problems worse for those who have them. And since babies younger than 6 months are too young to get their own flu vaccine, parents, caregivers and others in the household should be vaccinated to help protect them. By getting vaccinated, you will be less likely to get the flu and, therefore, less likely to spread the flu to others in these vulnerable groups.

Q: Should children receive one or two doses of the flu vaccine? We’ve heard different things.

A: Children 6 months through 8 years of age who are getting vaccinated for the first time, as well as some who have been vaccinated previously, will need two doses. Your child’s doctor, nurse, or other health care professional can tell you if two doses are recommended for your child. If your child has not already received their first dose of vaccine, get your child vaccinated now. Children who only get one dose but need two doses can have reduced or no protection from a single dose of flu vaccine. If two doses are needed, begin the process as early as possible. The doses should be given at least 28 days apart and it usually takes about 2 weeks after the second dose is given for protection to begin.

Q: If you don’t have time to get to the doctor, will insurance work at other vaccination locations?

A: Since September 2010, new health insurance plans are required to cover recommended vaccines without co-pays or deductibles when provided by an in-network health care provider. For more information on the Health Insurance Marketplace, visit https://www.healthcare.gov/. Many private health insurance plans also cover the cost of vaccines, but you should check with your insurance provider before going to the doctor. Flu vaccines are offered in many locations, including doctor’s offices, clinics, health departments, pharmacies and college health centers. They also are offered by many employers, and are even available in some schools. Another useful tool is the HealthMap Vaccine Finder to find the nearest location where you can get vaccinated.

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