Vaccines have been in the news a lot lately, and usually for the wrong reasons. School districts all over the country still require children to have certain vaccinations before they can begin the school year, and many companies urge employees to get flu vaccines prior to winter settling in. But is it really necessary for everyone to get a flu shot every year? The facts about the flu may surprise you, but they should also inspire you to become more informed about flu vaccinations.
Facts About Flu
Education is power, and the more you know about flu the more you can do to protect yourself. Flu is:
- Extremely contagious and transported from person to person by coughing and sneezing;
- Challenging to diagnose since lots of other conditions mimic flu symptoms;
- Especially dangerous to certain people, especially vulnerable populations, causing devastating side effects like dehydration, congestive heart failure and diabetes; and
- Fatal to thousands of people every year.
That last point isn’t meant to be an alarmist stretch of the truth. Flu does kill people, but it varies by year and potency of the virus that spreads each season. Some people are more susceptible than others to flu’s more serious side effects, but at the very least, flu can knock you down for days or weeks at a time. It’s not the same as the common cold, though they share similar features. Bottom line: Take flu seriously.
What is a Flu Shot?
One of the biggest myths in the medical world is that getting a flu shot can give you the flu. This myth comes from the fact that flu vaccines are made from dead flu viruses. When you’re injected with these dead viruses, you cannot immediately get the flu. The dead viruses help your immune system to prepare for the viruses that are floating around this year by teaching your body how to fight off certain flu strains. If you do notice symptoms of flu or any other medical problem after you get your shot, bring it up with your doctor right away to rule out an allergy or adverse reaction.
Who Should Get a Flu Shot?
In reality, everyone over the age of six months should get a flu shot to help reduce the chances of being sidelined for days with a miserable set of symptoms. But the flu tends to prey on certain types of people more than others, including:
- People with asthma
- Anyone with any kind of heart condition
- Pregnant women
- Anyone over the age of 65
- Children between the ages of two and five
- Anyone suffering from conditions that affect the immune system, such as HIV or cancer
Did you know that there are different types of flu vaccinations? Along with the standard shot, you can get a high-dose shot if you’re 65 or older. The weakened immune system of elderly people often makes a more potent shot necessary. If you don’t like shots, then ask your doctor about a flu vaccination given by a nasal spray. These types of vaccinations tend to not be as effective as the shots and aren’t generally recommended, but they are an option for some.
And if you’re allergic to ingredients used in the vaccine, check with your doctor. Even those with egg allergies can (usually) get a flu vaccine safely.
New Year, New Vaccine
When your doctor talks to you about a flu shot, he isn’t talking about a generic shot that’s available year after year. Prior to each flu season, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) releases a list of vaccinations that are available based on the most prevalent forms of influenza going around every year. In other words, a new vaccine gets developed based on the likely characteristics of the flu season at hand.
Your doctor will know which type of shot to give you that offers the most protection. The type of shot you get usually depends on where you live, how old you are and whether you have a history of getting the flu or not. The CDC maintains that the best way to combat the flu is to get vaccinated before flu season begins, so an early shot in the fall will likely be most effective. But you can still get vaccinated during winter since flu season lasts until late spring in some areas. Note that it takes about two weeks for a flu shot to take full effect.
Who Should Skip a Flu Shot?
Very few groups of people should avoid an annual flu shot. Babies younger than six months should not get a flu shot, nor should people with certain life-threatening allergies. If you’re not feeling well when you schedule your flu vaccine, mention it to your doctor since you may need to reschedule for when you’re no longer sick. In general, if you’ve got a chronic medical condition or have concerns about whether to get the flu shot or not, ask your doctor. You most likely can get vaccinated, but it’s always best to make sure ahead of time.