Are You Ready For Your Flu Shot?

Vaccination Can Help You Stay Healthier this Winter

Believe it or not, it is that time of year to start thinking about getting a flu shot. We have already been giving them in our office. Influenza remains a threat to people’s health and remains a major cause for lost time at work, hospitalizations and even deaths. It is reported that thousands of people in the U.S. die from influenza every year. The great majority of the deaths are in people over 65 years old.

Influenza is a respiratory illness caused by a virus. The virus causes symptoms of fever, sore throat, cough, headache and muscle aches usually two to three days after being exposed. The symptoms last about a week and in most cases resolve without treatment. There are medications that can be used to treat influenza but for most people they provide very little benefit. The virus is spread person to person through touch, sneezing and coughing. It is highly contagious. Influenza tends to occur primarily in the winter months of January through March.

The influenza virus is unique in that it can change from year to year so that people can lose their immunity. Vaccines are produced each year in anticipation of the type of virus that will be present for that flu season. The predictions are based on past history and the type of viruses that are present around the world. Generally, the vaccine contains strains of inactivated influenza A and influenza B virus. All the vaccines contain three strains, but some contain four. There are different strengths of vaccine and the higher dose vaccines are recommended for those over 65 years old.

The recommendations on who should get vaccinated have not changed from last year. It is advised that everyone over the age of 6 months receive a flu vaccination. It is especially important for people who have other medical problems like such as disease, diabetes, illnesses that inhibit the immune system or who take medications that inhibit the immune system. Pregnant women, people who take care of newborns and infants and healthcare workers are also good candidates to get the flu vaccine.

Last year it was advised that people not use the live attenuated nasal vaccine referred to as FluMist. That recommendation continues for this year due to concerns about its effectiveness. This had been an option for otherwise healthy people between the age 2 and 49 in past years. Along with vaccination, the spread of influenza can be limited by measures to avoid spreading the virus. People who have a fever and flu symptoms should stay home and limit contact with vulnerable people. Careful and frequent hand washing can prevent the spread of the virus. Also, taking care to cover the mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing can prevent spread of virus.

Many people avoid the flu vaccine due to misinformation. For example, many people believe you can get the flu from the shot, but that is simply not true. Some people feel it does not work because they get a cold or diarrhea and mistake that for the “flu.” The vaccine is specifically for the influenza virus.

The only true contraindication to the shot is a documented egg allergy (though there are newer forms that do not contain egg) or allergy to other components of the shot. People who have had a rare condition called Guillain-Barre syndrome should discuss the risks of the vaccine with their provider.

Flu shots are now available and the best time to get one is from now until Thanksgiving. A flu vaccine is a good way to prevent illness in your quest to stay healthy my friends.

Michael Shattuck, MD, is a family practice physician at ThedaCare Physicians-Wautoma.