The Gift of Getting Your Flu Shot

12/19/2017

Healthy Living - December 19, 2017
Amy Movius, MD – Eastern Maine Medical Center
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It’s that time of year again. The holidays are here and influenza season is just around the corner.  Every year this infection sweeps across the nation affecting many Americans - even resulting in the hospitalization and/or death of hundreds of thousands. The latest statistics from the CDC from October through November show that the incidence of influenza is already on the rise, which is a bit earlier than typical. The preliminary type of influenza found so far has been associated with increased severity of illness and death in prior seasons, so it may well be a rough season for those infected.  The silver lining is that we actually have a vaccination that can protect against infection from this virus.  Unfortunately, many people still do not get vaccinated. This places themselves and others at risk of serious illness (or even death) from influenza. 

The recommendation for many years has been that everyone over 6 months of age receives the vaccine.  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.   It usually becomes available in October but if you didn’t received it yet the CDC recommends you should still get it at any point during flu season which can last into May. 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”. This vaccine is the best protection against getting the flu we have! 

There are certain groups at especially high risk of serious complications from the flu. These include young children, pregnant women, people over 65 years, 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. It’s important to remember however, that even the healthiest people can still become desperately ill with influenza.

On the flip side of this, there are some people who cannot receive the vaccine, including babies less than 6 months of ageThese most vulnerable among us have no choice but to hope that they are not exposed to the virus. The higher the vaccination rate in the community the safer these people are.  The argument that some individuals make for not getting the shot because they aren’t at particular risk of complications disregards this concern.  There is no individual benefit to anyone getting the flu “naturally” either. 
 
One of the most pervasive myths is that the flu shot can cause the flu.  It cannot.  There is no virus in the shot. That is the boring, plain fact.  There is no disagreement in medical opinion about this.  If someone becomes ill after receiving the shot, it is a coincidence, nothing more. 

The true risks of getting the flu shot are minor. Mostly, there can be a little soreness at the injection site. There is a very small chance of allergy to the vaccine 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 are prescription medications that can lessen and shorten the illness, as well as protect against dangerous complications. These work best the earlier they are given, so call your provider ASAP if you think you may have influenza. First however, please give yourself, your family, your friends, your town, your whole world, the gift of being vaccinated.

References:
  1. www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/keyfacts
  2. www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/preventing
  3. Update:  Influenza Activity – United States, October 1-November 25, 2017.  MMWR December 8, 2017.