A Healthier Tomorrow – October 2018

A Healthier Tomorrow – Influenza vaccination – Should you, or shouldn’t you?

Imagine a Healthier Tomorrow

By Alison H. Page                                                                                

Every year questions arise about the influenza vaccine.  Should I get it?  Does it work?  Will it make me sick?  The short answer to these questions is yes, yes and no.  If you believe me, stop reading and go get your flu shot.  If you want more information…read on.

According to infectious disease experts at the United States Center for Disease Control (CDC), everyone 6 months of age and older should get a flu vaccine every season, There are a very small number of people who should not be vaccinated, or may need to use a particular type of vaccine over another, due to past and present health conditions or allergies to the vaccine or its components. 

First, a little background information.

What is the flu?  Not to be confused with stomach flu, influenza is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and sometimes the lungs. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. 

What are the symptoms?  Flu is different from a cold. Flu usually comes on suddenly. People who have influenza often feel some or all of these symptoms: fever (Although, it is important to note that not everyone with flu will have a fever), cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, fatigue, and sometimes diarrhea and vomiting.

How does it spread?  Most experts believe that flu viruses spread mainly by tiny droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby. Less often, a person might get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose or possibly their eyes.  The flu spreads very easily.  You may be able to pass on flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick.

How is it best prevented?  The first and most important step in preventing flu (https://www.cdc.gov/flu/consumer/prevention.htm) is to get a flu vaccine each year. Flu vaccine has been shown to reduce flu related illnesses and the risk of serious flu complications that can result in hospitalization or even death. CDC also recommends everyday preventive actions (like staying away from people who are sick, covering coughs and sneezes and frequent handwashing) to help slow the spread of germs that cause respiratory (nose, throat, and lungs) illnesses, like flu.

How does the flu vaccine work? Flu vaccines cause antibodies to develop in the body about two weeks after vaccination. These antibodies provide protection against infection with the viruses that are in the vaccine.

The seasonal flu vaccine protects against the influenza viruses that research indicates will be most common during the upcoming season. Sometimes the influenza viruses change over the course of the flu season, rendering the vaccine less effective.  However, research shows that even when this happens, people who have received the flu vaccine become less sick if they contract the flu than people who are not vaccinated. 

Why do I need a flu vaccine every year?  A flu vaccine is needed every season for two reasons. First, the body’s immune response from vaccination declines over time, so an annual vaccine is needed for optimal protection. Second, because flu viruses are constantly changing, the formulation of the flu vaccine is reviewed each year and updated as needed to keep up with changing flu viruses.

Can the flu vaccine give me the flu?  No, a flu vaccine cannot give you flu. The most common side effects from a flu shot are soreness, redness and/or swelling where the shot was given, fever, and/or muscle aches. These side effects are NOT flu. If you do experience side effects, they are usually mild and short-lived, especially when compared to symptoms from a bad case of flu.

The bottom line is, influenza is dangerous.  The CDC announced last week that 80,000 people died from influenza or complications related to influenza last year.  Hardest hit by the illness were the elderly and young children. 

The CDC estimates that for the 2016-2017 flu season, nearly 47 percent of the population were vaccinated (https://www.cdc.gov/flu/fluvaxview/coverage-1617estimates.htm#age-group-all). Influenza vaccination prevented an estimated 5.3 million illnesses, 2.6 million influenza-associated medical visits, and 85,000 hospitalizations associated with influenza. CDC experts calculated that a 5 percentage point increase in vaccination rates could have prevented another 483,000 influenza illnesses, 232,000 influenza-associated medical visits, and 7,000 influenza-associated hospitalizations across the U.S. population.  Within health care organizations we expect all people caring for you to be vaccinated.  If a health care worker is not vaccinated for some reason you should expect to see him or her wearing a mask while caring for you. 

Please protect yourself and others by getting vaccinated now.  You can get your vaccine at your clinic or at many area pharmacies.