To Get (or Not to Get) an Annual Flu Shot

Autumn has officially arrived, and along with leaves changing color and a nip in the air comes cold and flu season, which presents a dilemma for many Americans:  to get or not to get a flu shot.  Influenza is serious and should not be taken lightly – it can sometimes result in hospitalization and occasionally even death.  In fact, over the past ten years, the average number of people that die annually from the flu is between 32,000 and 33,000 individuals.

A typical flu season in the U. S. can span from October to May, which is a long stretch for flu viruses to circulate throughout the country.  Many experts therefore, advocate an annual flu vaccine.  Vaccination can lessen one’s chances for contracting seasonal flu and spreading it to others.

Also, illnesses of the upper respiratory tract – like flu - have been linked to increased risks for heart disease and stroke.  In fact, a study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that individuals who get vaccinated for influenza are 19 percent less apt to be hospitalized with heart disease.

How the Flu Vaccine Works

Vaccinations for the seasonal flu are available in two forms:  an injection and a nasal spray.  Roughly two weeks following vaccination, both types help the body to build antibodies which protect it from infection.  It is important to note that the seasonal flu vaccine does not protect against all strains of flu.  The vaccine will, however, provide protection from three different types of influenza virus that typically affect people today:  Influenza A (H1N1), Influenza A (H3N2) and Influenza B virus.

While there are certain populations of people who definitely should have the vaccine each year, there are others who should not.

People Who Should Get Vaccinated

Most people who contract the flu experience a mild illness and do not need medical care. Some however, are more likely to get complications that result in hospitalization and occasional death.  People who should get an annual flu vaccine are:

  • People with asthma, chronic lung disease and diabetes that might develop flu complications.
  • Individuals who live with or care for people in the first group. 
  • Women who are pregnant.
  • Children from 6 months of age to 5 years old.
  • Individuals over the age of 65.
  • People Who Should Not Be Vaccinated

The flu vaccine is not available for infants younger than six months of age.  Also, certain individuals should always check with a health care provider before getting vaccinated.  These include:

  • People who have experienced a reaction to influenza vaccine in the past.
  • Individuals with an allergy to chicken eggs.
  • People who are ill and experiencing a fever.
  • Individuals that have contracted Guillain–Barré Syndrome (a severe paralytic illness, also called GBS) after receiving influenza vaccine.

Occasionally, people experience adverse reactions which typically occur within six to twelve hours but can occur up to 48 hours following vaccination.  Usually these are mild and short-lived, but if you are experiencing persistent symptoms of pain or swelling at the injection site, fever or vomiting – consult a healthcare provider.

Sources:

http://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/keyfacts.htm

http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2010/08/26/129456941/annual-flu-death-average-fluctuates-depending-on-how-you-slice-it

http://home.smh.com/sections/services-procedures/medlib/Pandemic/Pan_Geriatrics/PanGer_49_Nichol_050309.pdf

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