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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

There’s still time for flu vaccination

Dr. Alisa Hideg

Influenza reports are increasing in the Northwest as they do every year at this time.

Cold and flu viruses are very contagious and the bad news is that cold and flu season does not usually peak until February, so there is more to come. The good news is that it is not too late to get vaccinated against the flu and other respiratory infections.

The flu, many common types of bacterial pneumonia, pertussis (whooping cough), diphtheria and Haemophilus Influenzae Type B (Hib) are all serious respiratory infections that are preventable with vaccinations.

Despite many wonderful advances in health care, these diseases can be deadly. Snohomish County has just declared a whooping cough epidemic, after a newborn died from the disease in December. In 2010, 35 infants – too young to be fully vaccinated – were hospitalized in Washington with whooping cough. Two of these infants died. In most cases they were exposed to pertussis by a family member or friend.

When adults and older children have up-to-date vaccines, there is a smaller chance we will infect (and make seriously ill) infants who have not yet received all of their vaccinations. When people around you are vaccinated even though you are not is called “herd immunity.” If you follow the recommended vaccination schedule, your child, her classmates and younger siblings will also be protected.

Starting at age 11, we should all get tetanus-containing vaccine every 10 years. One of those should be the Tdap (tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis) vaccine. The others can be the Td (tetanus-diphtheria) vaccine.

I recommend a flu vaccine for everyone who is able to be vaccinated. It is best to get vaccinated yearly, preferably at the beginning of flu season. Some people may catch the flu even though they are vaccinated, but they will not become as sick as they would without the vaccine.

Although anyone can catch bacterial pneumonia, it is most dangerous for children, adults older than 65, adults with lowered resistance to infection, adults with a history of respiratory problems and adults with chronic health problems.

Because my immune system has been under stress due to my cancer, I also received the adult pneumonia (pneumococcus) vaccine. Pneumonia vaccination is now part of the routine schedule of vaccines for infants and children. Adults can talk to a health care provider to see if they may be at risk for this type of pneumonia.

Hib can cause pneumonia and other illnesses in children younger than 5 years old. Before this vaccine became available there were about 1,000 childhood deaths per year from this bacteria.

Another respiratory infection, common to children, is respiratory syncytial virus. Anyone can catch RSV, and for most people, it is like having a bad cold. However, premature babies who are still younger than 6 months old and children with existing heart or lung disease are at risk for pneumonia and other complications from RSV. There is not yet a vaccine available for RSV, but at-risk children are given a medication at intervals during RSV season to help prevent serious problems.

Of course I recommend the usual precautions against infections: washing hands, avoiding touching your face, sneezing or coughing into your elbow, not sharing drinking glasses and staying home from work or school when sick.

I also recommend keeping up to date on vaccines to all my patients – it’s possible pass the infection on to others without getting sick yourself. When you protect yourself from disease, you protect those around you.

Dr. Alisa Hideg is a family medicine physician at Group Health’s Riverfront Medical Center in Spokane. Her column appears every other Tuesday in the Today section. Send your comments and column suggestions to