It’s that time of year again. The kids are back in school, and the viruses are starting to go around. While you can’t get immunized against every virus out there, you can take steps to avoid catching the flu. Many people are unsure about whether or not they should be immunized against the influenza virus each year. There is plenty of misinformation circling about what is in the flu vaccination, whether it causes sickness, whether it is effective and whether it’s even necessary. Here are the medical facts about influenza and the influenza vaccine.
How Dangerous is Influenza?
Influenza is a serious disease that can lead to hospitalization and sometimes even death. Every flu season is different, and influenza infection can affect people differently. Even healthy people can get very sick from the flu and spread it to others. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says that, over a period of 31 seasons between 1976 and 2007, estimates of flu-associated deaths in the United States range from a low of about 3,000 to a high of about 49,000 people. During a regular flu season, about 90 percent of deaths occur in people 65 years and older.
Influenza: Not Just a Simple Cold
“Flu season” in the United States can begin as early as October and last as late as May. People who get the flu are not dealing with a simple cold – the high fever, chills, body aches, sore throat, cough, and fatigue are all much more severe than the common cold. A severe illness, the flu can knock you out for two weeks or more. The flu virus can also cause complications, including bacterial pneumonia, sinus infections, ear infections, dehydration, and worsening of chronic health conditions, such as diabetes and asthma. According to the American Lung Association, more than 200,000 people in the U.S. are hospitalized every year from the flu.
When Should I Get My Flu Shot?
Some people think they don’t need to get their influenza immunization until the weather is freezing and they are actually hearing about flu cases in their area. That is a bad idea because the flu vaccine takes up to two weeks to be fully effective. The CDC says you should get your flu shot as early as it becomes available – and definitely by October. Experts recommend that people start getting shots as early as October before the flu season is in its full swing.
Who Should be Protected Against the Flu?
The CDC recommends that all Americans older than six months get the flu vaccine each season and that it’s especially important for people at high risk of flu complications and those who live with or care for them. People at high risk of flu complications include those with certain medical conditions, such as heart disease, lung disease, HIV, and kidney or liver disorders. People who are aged 65 and older, pregnant women, and health care professionals are also at risk for flu complications.
Who Should Not Get the Flu Shot?
The CDC says that you need to let your doctor know if you’re not feeling well, or if your medical history includes Guillain-Barré Syndrome, asthma if you are allergic to eggs or allergic to the vaccine ingredients. In these cases, you and your doctor can talk about the best option for you.
The Flu Shot is Effective
While it is true that the flu shot will not protect you from every strain of the flu virus, and may not be effective for every person, most medical professionals still recommend the flu vaccine for prevention of flu, particularly among those who are vulnerable to complications. In general, the flu shot will be effective in two-thirds of the people who get it. It is least effective in the elderly, which is why those who care for the elderly should be immunized. An older person’s best chance of not being infected with the flu is if those around him/her do not get it.
The Flu Shot Does Not Make You Sick
The vaccine itself will not make you sick. It is medically impossible to catch the flu from the vaccine. While a small amount of the virus is used to make the flu shot, it cannot produce an active infection in your body. You may experience soreness in the spot where you get the shot, but that is the reaction of your immune system making protective antibodies so that you can fight off the real influenza virus. In the fall, when the flu vaccine becomes available, it is also a time when many other viruses are circulating. If you feel sick after getting the shot, it is likely that you were already going to come down with an illness before you received the immunization.
The Flu Shot is Necessary Every Year
Just because you have had a flu vaccine last year or in previous years, you do not now have long-lasting immunity from the flu. The seasonal flu vaccine is changed every year to keep up with the strains of influenza viruses which research indicates will be most common in the upcoming season. So, you need to get the flu vaccine every year to be protected against the new strains.
A flu shot can make your life — and the lives of your loved ones — a whole lot easier. It can protect you from an illness that’s not only inconvenient but dangerous. If you’re still wondering if the flu vaccine is necessary, talk to your provider at Comprehensive Primary Care.