To get the flu shot or not get the flu shot? That is the question

Proactive Health

By Pauline Jose, M.D. and the pH health care professionals

Influenza, more commonly known as the flu, is a contagious viral infection that causes an epidemic every one to three years in the United States. It starts in late fall and peaks mid to late winter. It usually spreads via aerosol droplets like when you cough and sneeze. Typically, you are sick for about five days, but children may be sick longer. Symptoms abruptly occur with chills, high fever, headaches, muscle aches, weakness and occasionally cough. It is more serious and even life-threatening if you are elderly, very young or have pre-existing illnesses like asthma or diabetes mellitus.

The flu shot may reduce your risk of catching the flu. It is effective and well-tolerated, but many do not know much about it or have had bad experiences with it, resulting in them refusing to take it.

How does the flu shot work?

The flu shot makes you immune to the flu by producing antibodies that fight it. It should be given every year, because the type of influenza predicted to infect people is different every year.

There are three types of flu vaccines:

1. Trivalent inactivated vaccine (contains three strains of dead influenza virus) 

  • Made from dead influenza virus, first licensed in 1943
  • Doesn’t cause any symptoms of infection when given

  • Given by injection in the arm or thigh

  • Recommended for all healthy people from 6 months of age and older

There are different types of trivalent vaccines:

  • A high-dose trivalent type for people over 65-years-old

  • A trivalent type made with an adjuvant (added to increase response) for over 65-years-old, new this season

  • A recombinant (combination of different organisms, cells, DNA) type that is egg-free for 18-years-old and older

2. Quadrivalent inactivated vaccine for all age groups (contains four strains of dead influenza virus)

3. Live attenuated influenza vaccine

  • Made of live attenuated (weakened) influenza virus, first licensed in 2005

  • Can cause mild symptoms of infection

  • Given through the nose by an aerosol sprayer

  • Not recommended for people under 2 years of age, pregnant women, anyone with an allergy to eggs, children between 2-4 years of age with asthma, people with immune system diseases or other chronic illnesses as well as children on salicylates or other aspirin medications

  • Not recommended during the 2016-2017 season

Who should receive the flu shot?

The CDC recommends everyone 6 months and older receive the flu shot, except for certain rare exceptions. It takes two weeks for the vaccine to take effect.

Who should not receive the flu shot?

Babies under 6 months of age are too young to receive the vaccine. Anyone who has severe allergies to the vaccine or any of its ingredients should not receive it either. Speak to your health care provider if you have egg allergies to ensure you get the right vaccine or if you have suffered from a severe paralyzing illness called Guillain-Barre syndrome.

Can you still get the flu if you received the flu shot?

Yes, because not all people respond the same way to the flu shot, and some viruses affecting the community are not an exact match to the vaccine. However, the illness will be milder.

Can you get sick from the flu shot?

No. The injectable kind has dead viruses and will not make you sick. The nasal spray may cause mild symptoms of fever and sore throat, but it does not cause the flu virus itself.

Is it true that getting the flu shot every year makes it less effective?

Some research has suggested  getting the flu shot every year may actually make it less effective. The CDC says yes, some studies have found the vaccine tends to be more effective in people getting the shot for the first time compared with those who are getting it again.

But the agency also notes other studies have found no evidence repeat vaccination results in a person being less-protected against flu. The CDC stands by its recommendations saying while more research is needed in order to understand these issues getting the flu shot every year is “the best way to prevent the flu.”

Also, if you take statins (cholesterol-lowering medication), some research suggests they may interfere with the flu shot’s effectiveness. Talk to your doctor about your options.

What are side effects of the flu shot?

Side effects may include soreness at the injection site, redness and low-grade fever; and runny nose, wheezing, headaches and vomiting with the nasal spray.

What are the benefits of receiving the flu shot?

The flu shot can help prevent the flu, prevent its spread and avoid possible hospitalization, especially if you are elderly, pregnant or have a chronic illness.

It may lessen sick days and improve productivity during the fall and winter if given to all employees in certain companies that advocate it. If you are a healthcare worker, mandatory flu vaccination in hospitals and medical facilities may protect your families, co-workers and most of all your patients from getting the flu.

For more information, visit your healthcare provider or check out the CDC’s recommendations here.

Enjoy Your Healthy Life!

The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, health care attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. To learn more about the pH Health Care Team, click here.

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