What you need to Know about Flu and the Flu Vaccine

In the end, the benefits of flu vaccines outweigh its side effects. (photo credits from http://flushotsideeffect.com/)

It’s the time of the year again that health practitioners advise patients of getting flu shots, but I hear a lot of people refusing to get it because  of some misconceptions about the flu and the flu vaccine itself.  Some believe  that the vaccine itself would cause the fever, some think that getting the vaccine represses other illnesses that may hit you because it prevents fever. The flu vaccine has been around for years, and it’s time we have such misconceptions clarified by understanding what flu really is and what the vaccine does.

Vaccination
In the end, the benefits of flu vaccines outweigh its side effects.Photo credit: Sanofi Pasteur)

What is the flu?

Influenza (or common flu) is a viral infection that can spread from person to person in secretions of the nose and lungs (like sneezing). It  is a respiratory infection – an infection that develops primarily in the lungs. Influenza usually causes higher fever ranging from 100°F (37.8°C) to 104°F (40°C), which can reach 106°F (41°C) when symptoms first develop. Fever could be lower in older  adults that children and younger adults. The fever may come and go or it could be continuous. It can be accompanied by body aches, severe muscle pains, headaches, fatigue, loss of appetite, pain when you move your eyes, dry cough, runny nose and sore throat.

What complications can influenza lead to?

Seasonal influenza isn’t usually serious, if you’re young and healthy. You can get miserable when you have it, thanks to the symptoms accompanying influenza. Most of the time it doesn’t really have a lasting effect, but it can develop to complications like pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus and ear infections in high- risk children and adults.

Who are at high risk?

The following have high risk of developing complications if they get sick with  the flu:

  • Children 6 months to 18 years old
  • People 50 years or older
  • Women who will be pregnant during the flu season
  • Those who live in nursing homes
  • Adults with chronic heart or lung conditions, including asthma, or with any condition that weakens the immune system, such as diabetes
  • Any person in close contact with someone in a high-risk group, such as health care workers and household contacts

What type of vaccines are available?

There are two types of vaccines, the injection (with inactivated virus) and nasal vaccines (containing live, but weakened, virus). The latter is recommended only for non-pregnant, healthy people, ages from 2 to 49 years.  As it contains weakened strains of live virus, it is not recommend for infants, adults 50 and over, pregnant women, and anyone with a medical condition.

What exactly does the flu shot do?

Both type of vaccines work by causing antibodies to develop in your body, which will provide protection against the infection.

Why should it be taken  every year?

Each year, the flu vaccine contains several different kinds of the virus. The virus may slightly vary, making the previous vaccine ineffective. Newer strains of virus may appear.

Does it have side effects?

Some experience soreness in the arm after getting a flu shot. Some people have cold-like symptoms like sniffles, headaches, runny nose, sore throat, cough and body aches because the body’s immune system is responding by building up the protection against the infection. Serious side effects from the flu vaccine are very rare. If there are, they usually occur minutes after the vaccine had been injected. In the long run, the benefits of getting a flu shot still outweigh its side effects.

Why do some people who get get a seasonal flu vaccine and still get sick with flu-like symptoms?
Some people could have been exposed to the virus shortly before getting vaccinated or during the two-week period that it takes the body to gain protection. They could exhibit flu-like symptoms before the vaccine can protect them. Some people may become ill from other (non-flu) viruses that circulate during the flu season, which can also cause flu-like symptoms (such as rhinovirus). Some people think that having been vaccinated with the flu shot will make you invincible to any type of fever, but that is not  the case. Fever is a sign of any infection that the body is trying to fight; having been vaccinated does not protect you from other diseases which have fever as one of its  symptoms.
Talk to your doctor first before getting vaccinated if:
  • You had an allergic reaction after being vaccinated in the past.
  • You are severely allergic to eggs, as the influenza vaccine is grown in eggs.
  • You previously had Guillain-Barre syndrome, a disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks part of the nervous system, which can be retriggered by the vaccine.
  • You already have a fever. Talk to your health care provider about getting the shot later.

 

Web references:

http://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/tc/influenza-topic-overview

http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/qa/flushot.htm/

http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2006-09-25-flu-myths_x.htm