Did You Get Your Flu Shot Yet?
It’s that time of year again. The kids are back in school, the leaves are starting to change colors and the flu season is just around the corner. I find that many people are hesitant to get the flu vaccine but often for the wrong reasons. Some people think that getting the influenza virus is the same as getting a bad cold, so no point in getting a vaccine for it. However, influenza is much worse than the common cold. Patients are much sicker and it can last longer. More days are lost from school and work.
But, that is not the main reason that we vaccinate against the flu (as influenza is commonly called). Influenza can be deadly. In one of the largest pandemics the world has ever seen, the flu claimed the lives of many in 1918. And every year, people lose their lives to this infection. It tends to hit the elderly, the youngest, and immunocompromised the hardest. However, even healthy people can die from this virus. We often see secondary infections, such as pneumonia following a flu infection. These can be particularly hard to treat and long-lasting.
There are many people who refuse to be vaccinated against the flu because it made them sick in the past. The flu vaccine is an inactivated virus, so you are not being injected with a live virus (with the exception of the flu nasal mist). Some of the side effects of the vaccine can be a mild flu-like illness that usually subsides in 24-48 hours. But, it is not the actual flu. Compare this to being sick with influenza, which can keep you in bed for up to 10 days. In fact, the majority of patients experience no side effects at all.
Other people are concerned about the safety of preservatives used in this vaccine. The amount is actually quite tiny. While some vaccines do contain mercury, the kind it contains is ethyl mercury which is quickly broken down and excreted by your body. Methyl mercury, a completely different compound, is the kind that is found in the environment. This one has been shown to have neurotoxic effects in sufficiently high doses over prolonged periods of time. It is thus much safer to take the flu vaccine than it is to eat a tuna fish sandwich which may contain methylmercury from the environment.
Still others claim that they received the flu vaccine but it didn’t work. They feel why bother if it is not going to help. It is important to keep in mind that there are several strains of influenza, The virus is not protecting you from every strain. But, it will give you protection from the most prevalent strain that is being passed around. Sure there is a chance you can contract other strains, but you are greatly reducing your chances of contracting the most common one. Therefore, it is still a good idea to take the flu shot.
Many people wonder what is the best time to receive the vaccine. This is hard to predict because we don’t know when the flu season is going to be most active until it is upon us. The best advice is to get it as soon as it is available. Many studies support the fact that the immunity will last through the whole season. And these days, you can get these shots at the supermarket as well as your doctor’s office. So, convenience is no excuse here. If you really want to avoid the bad complications of the flu, it is time to take your vaccination.
Authored by Linda Girgis, MD