Yesterday we got shot. Vaccinated. Flu vaccine. Have you had yours?
Some people don’t get vaccinated for specific health reasons, while others don’t for fairly vague notions that their general good health will keep them safe. (They may as well count on their natural good looks to keep them healthy.) Still others contend that you can get the flu from the vaccine, and they won’t take that chance. Others go with theories that vaccinations, in general, are more dangerous than the illnesses than they’re intended to prevent.
Last time I had flu was in 2000. Our son had a go-round one week in March, and I was the next victim. I never want to do that again, with a week of near helplessness, fever and fatigue. Being young and healthy didn’t protect either of us. So since then I’ve had a flu shot almost every year and haven’t been sick. Sure, it’s true I might not have gotten sick anyway. That’s okay. I’ll still choose to be vaccinated.
Below I have quoted liberally from the CDC, with links provided to specific pages where possible.
Flu can be a dangerous illness. Recent history shows a range of from 3,000 to 49,000 people dying in a flu season. Most of those deaths are people 65 and older, but anyone can be struck down.
Influenza is a serious disease that can lead to hospitalization and sometimes even death. Every flu season is different, and influenza infection can affect people differently. Even healthy people can get very sick from the flu and spread it to others. Over a period of 31 seasons between 1976 and 2007, estimates of flu-associated deaths in the United States range from a low of about 3,000 to a high of about 49,000 people. During a regular flu season, about 90 percent of deaths occur in people 65 years and older. “Flu season” in the United States can begin as early as October and last as late as May.
What are the symptoms of flu? Flu typically comes on suddenly. Most people have fever (with or without chills), cough, headaches and muscle aches, and fatigue. For most people, diarrhea and vomiting are NOT associated with influenza. They occur with other viruses or bacterial infections.
Most people who get influenza will recover in a few days to less than two weeks, but some people will develop complications (such as pneumonia) as a result of the flu, some of which can be life-threatening and result in death.
Pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus and ear infections are examples of complications from flu. The flu can make chronic health problems worse. For example, people with asthma may experience asthma attacks while they have the flu, and people with chronic congestive heart failure may experience worsening of this condition that is triggered by the flu.
You don’t have to have symptoms to spread the disease. A few facts from the CDC about how flu spreads:
People with flu can spread it to others up to about 6 feet away. Most experts think that flu viruses are spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. Less often, a person might also get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth or nose.
Most healthy adults may be able to infect other people beginning 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 5 to 7 days after becoming sick. Children may pass the virus for longer than 7 days. Symptoms start 1 to 4 days after the virus enters the body. That means that you may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick. Some people can be infected with the flu virus but have no symptoms. During this time, those persons may still spread the virus to others.
Who is at higher risk for complications from flu?
- People with asthma
- People with diabetes
- People with heart disease and those who have had a stroke
- Adults 65 and older
- Pregnant women
- People who have HIV or AIDS
- People who have cancer
- Children younger than 5, but especially children younger than 2 years old
And what should you know about flu vaccinations? Can it give you the flu?
No, a flu vaccine cannot cause flu illness. Flu vaccines that are administered with a needle are currently made in two ways: the vaccine is made either with a) flu vaccine viruses that have been ‘inactivated’ and are therefore not infectious, or b) with no flu vaccine viruses at all (which is the case for recombinant influenza vaccine). The nasal spray flu vaccine does contain live viruses. However, the viruses are attenuated (weakened), and therefore cannot cause flu illness. The weakened viruses are cold-adapted, which means they are designed to only cause infection at the cooler temperatures found within the nose. The viruses cannot infect the lungs or other areas where warmer temperatures exist.
People have any number of reasons not to get the flu shot because of some health concern. The first thing most people say is that you can get the flu from the flu shot. As stated above, you cannot get the flu from the flu shot. Or that they got the vaccination and still got flu. This is possible. The immunization effect isn’t immediate, and it’s also possible to get a different strain of flu than the one immunized for. But you are far less likely to get flu with immunization than without. There can be side effects, as well. For most people the side effects are minor and pass quickly.
However, most reasons given to dodge the shot are based on faulty understanding, or on pure misinformation. See this great post with 33 myths about flu vaccination. Each myth provides accurate information refuting the claim.
If you need any other reasons to get the flu shot, consider the financial impact of getting sick. According to the Wall Street Journal, flu is expensive for the household and the nation.
The CDC estimates that the flu costs the U.S. more than $87 billion a year and results in 17 million lost workdays. A typical flu-related hospitalization for a child costs $4,000, and an emergency visit is about $730, says L.J. Tan, chief strategy officer at the Immunization Action Coalition, a nonprofit that educates the public and private sectors about vaccine-preventable illnesses.
If you have questions, check with your doctor to help you make the right decision for you and those around you.
I’m glad we have our shots. Have you?