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Influenza and Pneumovax Immunizations for ALS

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    Influenza and Pneumovax Immunizations for ALS

    Source: ALS Association

    Influenza and Pneumovax Immunizations for ALS

    There is a nationwide shortage of the flu vaccine for the 2004-2005 flu season. The United States expects to receive close to 58 million doses of the flu vaccine, known as Fluzone, and produced by Aventis Pasteur, Inc.

    Flu shots are highly recommended for people living with ALS, their caregivers and anyone who comes in regular contact with a person living with ALS because the flu can lead to serious, life-threatening problems, such as pneumonia. The flu shot is particularly important for people with respiratory muscle weakness and problems with oral and respiratory secretions.

    Where can I find a flu shot in my community? Contact your local ALS Association Chapter, Center, Clinic or your local health care provider. Flu shots or information about where they are available may be provided by one or more of these health organizations in your area: Public Health Departments, American Lung Association, drug stores, community health organizations such as clinics and hospitals.

    In light of the flu vaccine shortage this year, it may be more difficult for you to locate a flu shot. However, CDC is working with Aventis Pasteur and state and local health departments to distribute the remaining vaccine throughout the country over the next 6-8 weeks. During the week of October 15, more than 2 million doses were shipped.

    CDC asks that you be patient as the remaining doses are distributed. In addition, the American Lung Association web site at could be helpful to you in finding clinics in your area that have vaccine.

    The ALS Association is a voluntary health and advocacy organization and is not a health provider organization. ALSA does not order or administer flu vaccines. However, the more than 40 ALSA Centers and ALS Clinic associated with ALSA may have supplies of the vaccine or know where in your community you can find a flu shot.

    At least 45,000 Americans die each year from influenza and pneumonia. Combined, the two conditions are the sixth leading cause of death in the United States . Ninety percent of these deaths are among people 65 and older.

    There are a large number of different viruses that can cause a flu-like illness or the common cold. The flu shot provides protection from influenza, but not the many other respiratory virus infections. Some people will still get the flu even though they've had the influenza immunization, but it will usually be a milder case.

    The influenza immunization is highly recommended because the flu virus may increase the production of thick mucous secretions in the respiratory tract. This creates a problem for people living with ALS who may have an impaired ability to cough productively. A person with a weak cough may have difficulty moving these secretions along and may feel as if he/she is choking.

    Ways to Protect Yourself:

    Viruses can be transmitted in one of two ways: 1) touching respiratory secretions on a person's skin (when shaking hands) or on environmental surfaces (doorknobs or handrails) and then touching the eyes, nose or mouth; or 2) inhaling infectious particles in the air (respiratory secretions from a cough or sneeze).

    Hand washing is the best way to avoid contamination with the flu virus, along with not touching the nose, eyes or mouth. Other helpful measures include avoiding close exposure to people with the flu and always sneezing or coughing into a tissue and immediately throwing it away. Caregivers, family members and visiting friends who have an active flu virus may wear a facemask if they have close contact with someone living with ALS, but this may not be sufficient to prevent infection. Washing hands regularly is also recommended. During the winter months, when the influenza virus typically spreads, try to avoid being in crowds; and plan to do holiday shopping early to avoid crowds.

    The most important tool for fighting the ever-changing flu virus is immunization. It is strongly recommended that people living with ALS and other neuromuscular diseases, their caregivers, and anyone who has regular contact with a person with ALS, obtain these immunizations:

    * Influenza immunization every year in October or November
    * Pneumovax immunization (this should be repeated once after five years)

    People allergic to eggs, who have an acute respiratory illness or are pregnant should consult their health care providers about being vaccinated. Be sure to ask the advice of a health care provider before getting a flu shot. Check with your doctor or your local Health Department for availability of the vaccine in your area.

    Who Should Not Get the Flu Shot:

    What About the Nasal Flu Mist? Check with your physician before taking the nasal flu mist, FluMist. In general, it is not recommended for people with ALS. For more information, visit the CDC web site:

    For more information, check the following web sites:

    CDC adult immunization schedule for 2003-2004

    The American Medical Association (AMA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) co-sponsored the 2003 National Influenza Summit in Chicago , Illinois on May 20-21, 2003.

    Immunization action coalition, a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit organization, which works to increase immunization rates and prevent disease by creating and distributing educational materials for health professionals and the public that enhance the delivery of safe and effective immunization services.