Get Your Flu Shot

09/13/2016

Healthy Living - September 13, 2016
Amy Movius, MD
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Influenza is the virus that causes “the flu” and - like death and taxes - influenza season is inevitable.  Every year in the US, the influenza virus puts hundreds of thousands of people in the hospital, and kills thousands to tens of thousands.   The silver lining is we actually have a vaccination to protect against infection from this virus. Unfortunately, many people still do not get vaccinated placing themselves and others at risk of serious illness and even death from influenza.
 
The recommendation for many years has been that everyone over 6 months of age receives the vaccine, preferably by the end of October. Flu season can span from October to May, and it takes about 2 weeks for the protective antibodies to develop after getting the vaccine. The “flu shot” is the best protection against getting the flu we have!  It is important to receive it yearly as the influenza viruses are always changing. Each year the vaccine is adjusted to respond to those changes.  

Although even the healthiest people can become desperately ill with influenza, there are certain groups at especially high risk of serious complications from the flu.  These include young children, pregnant women, people over 65yrs, and anyone with a chronic health condition like asthma or other lung disease, diabetes and heart disease.  Most of us likely know at least several people who fall into this high risk category. 

This brings up another important reason to get vaccinated – other people! Some people cannot receive the vaccine, such as babies less than six months of age. Their protection depends on people around them not getting the flue. More vaccination means less influenza in the community. The argument that some individuals make for not getting the shot because they aren’t at particular risk of complications doesn’t take these most vulnerable populations into account.

Neither does the argument that getting the flu naturally is somehow better.  It’s not.  Though the vaccine is not 100% protective if you still get the flu after vaccination it is more likely to be a milder case, with less risk of deadly “flu-related complications.”    
The influenza vaccine does not caue the flu.

The risks of getting the flu shot are minor, and much less than those associated with getting influenza itself. Mostly, there can be a little soreness at the injection site. There is a very small chance of allergy to the vaccine and/or other reactions.  Everyone is screened for risk factors before receiving the vaccine, and those people who meet the rare exclusions and can’t receive it rely on the rest of us to get our shots, just like the young babies do.

During flu season, if you are sick, please stay home for at least 24 hours after your last fever. Good personal habits such as covering mouth/nose when coughing or sneezing as well as frequent hand washing or sanitizing will help prevent the spread of infection. Likewise, if you do get the flu, there is prescription medication that can lessen and shorten the illness, as well as protect against dangerous complications. These work best the earlier they are given, so consult you provider if you think you do have influenza. But first – please, please, please get your flu shot!

References:
1. www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/keyfacts
2. www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/preventing