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National Influenza Vaccination Month: Don't Forget Your Flu Shot!

National Influenza Vaccination Month: Don't Forget Your Flu Shot!

Just about everyone reading this has come down with the flu at some point, and most of us consider it nothing more than an inconvenience that takes up our sick time at work. Plenty of us consider making the effort to get a flu shot just as much of a pain, especially since it requires a new shot every year and it's not a guarantee that you'll avoid sickness. But influenza is dangerous, and it's constantly evolving. Even more to the point, those of us with well-developed but still youthful and thriving immune systems are fortunate. Others aren't quite so lucky, making immunization not only necessary for them, but valuable for us in order to reduce the spread of the virus to immunocompromised people.

Flu Shot Vaccine Influenza A B H1N1 Season

Why is the Influenza Vaccine So Important?

The CDC, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, recommends that anyone 6 months of age or older should get some form of influenza vaccination every year during flu season. Some facts about optimal vaccination practices:

  • Flu season lasts typically from October to May every year. This is when conditions are right for influenza to spread with greatest efficacy.
  • The rapid rate at which strains of the flu virus change requires new forms of the flu vaccine to be made every year.
  • The three types of flu virus are Influenza Types A, B, and C. Strains of Types A and B cause the yearly influenza epidemics.
  • Flu vaccines are trivalent, affecting three common strains of Types A & B, or quadrivalent, protecting against four strains.
  • Vaccines come in many formats, including nasal spray, but the most effective and reliable is the flu shot.
  • On average only 59% of children 6 months or older get the flu vaccine each year. Only 42% of adults 18 years or older receive it.

Flu Shot Influenza A B Season Vaccine H1N1

Flu Complications: Are You at Risk?

As unpleasant as the flu can be, it's not the only concern during flu season. The possibility of developing a secondary infection during a bout with the flu is always present, even for those with a typically healthy immune system. These complications range from the moderate to the life-threatening, and can include:

  • Sinus and ear infections.
  • Pneumonia.
  • Bronchitis.
  • Asthma attacks: can be triggered in asthmatic people.
  • Inflammation: of the heart (myocardia), brain (encephalitis), or muscle tissue (myositis, rhabdomyolysis).
  • Multi-organ failure: kidney failure, respiratory failure, and others.
  • Sepsis: infection in the blood.
  • Worsening of chronic heart disease.

Complications like these are not only potentially devastating, but more commonly affect those who are already most endangered by the flu. These vulnerable groups include:

  • Children younger than 5 years old, and especially those younger than 2: Children under 6 months cannot be vaccinated, so protecting them is vital.
  • Pregnant women and women up to two weeks postpartum.
  • Adults over 65 years old: this group is especially vulnerable to pneuomonia and should also get pneumococcal vaccination.
  • Residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities: this is true regardless of age.
  • Those with chronic health conditions: this includes asthma, chronic lung disease, heart disease, disorders of the blood, liver, kidneys, endocrine system, and metabolism, or neurological or developmental conditions.

If you have someone meeting any of these descriptors in your life, it's doubly important that you get vaccinated every year. You're getting the flu shot not just for yourself, but for the health of your loved ones.

Flu Shot Vaccine Influenza A B H1N1 Season

Understanding the Flu Vaccine

Many people don't understand why a flu vaccine is recommended every year, and because of that avoid getting a shot. Others have had the flu during the winter despite a shot, and question it's effectiveness. Some feel that the flu shot is unsafe for them. And some believe that you can get the flu from the vaccine. There are many reasons people may give for not getting a flu shot, and we'd like to discuss them.

  • Is the vaccine effective? The effectiveness of the flu vaccine varies depending on how well the strains present in the vaccine match the strains circulating during flu season. Developing a flu vaccine always requires some prediction about the upcoming season, but according to the CDC, vaccinated people are 60% less likely to catch the flu.
  • Why do you need a new shot every year? There's a new shot every year because the flu changes every year. Adaptation happens quickly in viruses. Medical organizations track the dominant strains of Influenza A and B throughout the year to determine the most likely flu types during the major season. As the viruses change, the flu vaccine must change to counteract them.
  • Is the vaccine equally effective for everyone? Influenza vaccine works best in healthy adults and older children. Because of this, a high dose vaccine is available for older adults, containing four times the standard amount of flu vaccine.
  • Is the flu shot safe? Like all medications, the flu vaccine has potential side effects. These include soreness, redness, or swelling at the injection site, as well as achiness and low-grave fever. Fever is present in 1 to 2 percent of people who have received the shot.
  • Who should and shouldn't get the flu vaccine? The vaccine is recommended for everyone 6 months of age or older, particularly the vulnerable groups we discussed above. Pregnant women in any stage of pregnancy are safe getting the flu shot; in fact, the vaccination helps protect a baby in the first 6 months of life, before they are allowed to get a flu shot.
  • Can you get the flu from the vaccine? No. The flu shot contains a dead form of the virus. However, it can take up to two weeks for the vaccine to take effect, and people are still susceptible to catching the flu during this time.
  • Are there alternatives to the flu shot? A nasal spray is approved for healthy people ages 2 to 49, although it is not recommended for pregnant woman; its effectiveness is disputed in comparison to the shot. In addition, there is an egg-free version grown in animal cells, rather than hen's eggs, approved for those 4 or older. There is also a needle-free shot, which injects via a high-pressure fluid, approved for adults 18 to 64.

We're well into 2018-2019 flu season, but there's still time to get vaccinated against this year's dominant strains of influenza. The ideal time to get the shot is in early fall, by the end of October, but most people get theirs around Thanksgiving. We may be in December, but flu activity peaks in January or February, so if you've made it this far into the season and remained healthy, it's the perfect opportunity to vaccinate yourself and your loved ones. Staying healthy is not a solo endeavor; what you do affects the health of your family, friends, and community. Getting vaccinated against the flu is one of the best ways to take care of yourself and everyone around you.

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