TRENTON New Jersey Department of Human Services (DHS) Commissioner Jennifer Velez reminds people with disabilities and their caregivers that flu shots are vitally important this fall. Influenza, commonly called the flu, is a highly contagious respiratory illness that is caused by one of a variety of influenza strains.
“It is extremely important for people with disabilities and equally important for family members and professional caregivers to get flu shots to protect themselves and protect those for whom they provide care,” said DHS Commissioner Velez. “Caregivers of people with disabilities often focus on nurturing others, and delay tending to their own personal needs.”
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that flu viruses kill approximately 36,000 people and hospitalize more than 200,000 people in the United States , each year. Additional information is available from the CDC at www.cdc.gov/flu/.
The virus is spread through coughing and sneezing or by touching something that has been contaminated by the flu virus and then touching the nose, ears or the mouth. Since flu is spread by respiratory secretions, people with any disability or condition that compromises respiratory function or the control of oral secretions, such as swallowing difficulties, are at a higher risk than the general population for developing severe complications from flu. Those who are at significant risk include people with brain injury, cognitive disabilities, seizure disorders, spinal cord injury, and musculoskeletal system impairments such as cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy.
Flu symptoms include fever, headache and muscle aches, extreme tiredness, sore throat and a dry cough, as well as nasal congestion. People can infect others about one-day before any symptoms appear and remain contagious up to five days after the first symptom surfaces. Flu can worsen chronic conditions such as diabetes and asthma and the complications from flu include dehydration, viral and bacterial pneumonia, and even heart failure.
The best way to prevent flu is to get vaccinated every year. Prevention also includes avoiding close contact with people who are sick, covering the mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, washing hands frequently and in the event of exposure to flu, a personal physician can prescribe antiviral medications.
Flu vaccination clinics, sponsored by local health departments, are also available to those who qualify. Many clinics have residency or age requirements. The New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services website http://web.doh.state.nj.us/apps2/flu/fluschedules.aspx provides helpful information regarding available flu clinics in New Jersey .