Flu season has arrived and unfortunately, it is not going away anytime soon, which is why many medical doctors advise their patients to get an annual flu shot to stay protected during contagious season. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), between 151 million to 159 million doses of the flu vaccine will be available in the United States during the 2014-2015 flu season. Although the CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccination for anyone above six months of age, there still plenty of people who are on the fence about taking the vaccine. Check out Dr. Denise Hooks-Anderson response to popular flu vaccination myths.
Every year about this time, I feel like I must begin the same old tired song and dance to convince my patients, particularly the African American patients, to get their yearly influenza immunization – the “flu shot.” My explanation of the importance of being immunized probably takes up a small portion of the visit compared to the patient’s litany of excuses as to why they do not want the vaccine. If you can conjure up a negative influenza rebuttal in your mind, I’ve probably heard it.
Myth #1- The flu shot makes you sick.
The influenza vaccine is NOT a live vaccine. Translation: we are not injecting you with active influenza virus. The injectable vaccine is in the inactivated form. Do realize, however, that the influenza vaccine only protects against influenza not the other potential viruses to which you may be exposed. Therefore, when you hear all of the urban legend stories of getting sick after a flu shot, those individuals more than likely did not have “the flu” but another virus prevalent at that time of the year.
Myth #2- The flu shot components contain harmful agents.
For years people have tried to link thimerosal, a mercury-based vaccine preservative, to a host of health problems. Yet numerous studies have shown that the small amount of thimerosal in vaccines is safe. However, if you are concerned, there are preservative free influenza vaccines.
Myth #3- Vaccines are just for kids.
Vaccines don’t stop just because you enter adulthood. There are plenty of adult recommended immunizations and influenza happens to be one of them. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends yearly flu vaccines for everyone age 6 months and up. Because of the weakened immune system of the elderly, they receive a high dose influenza vaccine starting at age 65. There are several different other forms of the flu vaccine including a nasal spray version that is recommended for healthy children age 2-8 years of age.
Myth #4- I just got the vaccine in the spring.
Each year the influenza vaccine is formulated for the upcoming season’s predicted viruses. The vaccine is composed of two or three potential viruses for that year. For example, if you received the influenza immunization in March 2014, you received the vaccine for the 2013-2014 season and not the 2014-2015 season. You would still need to be immunized for this year.
Myth #5- If I have a runny nose, I cannot get the flu shot.
Minor illnesses do not prohibit administration of the influenza immunization. There are really only a couple of major precautions with the flu vaccine. For example, the inactivated vaccine should not be given to people who have a moderate to severe allergic reaction to any component of the vaccine, such as an egg allergy, nor any past history of Guillaine- Barre Syndrome, a rare neuromuscular disorder causing profound motor difficulties.
Myth #6- I’m usually pretty healthy. I will just take my chances.
Influenza is different than a common cold- it is a SERIOUS infection that could lead to death. It causes severe symptoms such as fevers, chills, and muscle pains and can weaken your immune system even more making you susceptible to other illnesses such as pneumonia.
From 1976-2007, the estimated flu-associated deaths in the United States was as low as 3,000 to a whooping 49,000. During a typical flu season, over 90 percent of the deaths were in people over age 65. I can attest to the magnitude of severity of an influenza infection. I have cared for many ICU patients who in hindsight wished they had adhered to their provider’s recommendation of the flu shot. Patients who present with influenza look as if an 18-wheeler has run them over. They are undeniably ill-appearing.
The influenza is highly contagious and can spread quickly. Because of this, most health care facilities mandate that all employees be vaccinated. It is recommended that patients who believe that they may have influenza be seen within 72 hours so that if confirmed, antivirals can be initiated. The antivirals do not cure the flu but may lessen the severity of the symptoms or shorten its course by a day.
Therefore, my advice to the community this upcoming flu season is to get vaccinated immediately. The flu vaccine can be given at your local provider’s office, health fairs, the health department and area pharmacies. Don’t believe the negative hype regarding the flu shot. Protect yourself and your family and get immunized against a potentially lethal virus. For more information, go to www.cdc.gov and type in influenza in the search bar.