Indian summer is here in all its glory. Usually the best weather in Sonoma County. It seems too early to worry about the flu. But flu season is just around the corner. The flu season is from Nov. to April, with most cases occurring between late Dec. and early March. But by getting the shot before the flu season is in full force, the body has a chance to build up immunity to the flu virus. It takes about six weeks after getting the flu shot to be fully protected. The flu vaccine is already available, and I received the flu shot last week.
So now is a good time to get your annual flu shot and avoid the misery of flu symptoms later this winter.
If you haven’t had the flu lately, you may have forgotten just how miserable it can make you feel. But there’s more to fear than fever, fatigue, and nagging aches and pains. From five to 20 percent of the US population gets the flu every year, with 200,000 hospitalized and 36,000 deaths.
Who should typically get the flu shot?
Health officials recommend that all adults and children over age six months of age, with few exceptions, get a flu vaccine. The goal is to stop the spread of the flu by vaccinating everyone, particularly children. The highest rate of flu is found with school age children, who then spread the disease to the more vulnerable age groups, the elderly and the young.
Certain individuals are high risk for flu symptoms and should most definitely get a yearly flu vaccine. High-risk individuals included:
High-risk children – check with your pediatrician
Everyone 50 years of age or older
Those who have chronic lung or heart disorders [Among people with heart disease, the flu can lead to viral or bacterial pneumonia that can trigger potentially deadly heart-related complications.]
Those who have chronic diseases such as diabetes mellitus, kidney disease, severe anemia, or immune deficiency (including HIV/AIDS)
Residents of nursing homes and other facilities that care for people with chronic medical conditions
Health care workers and other employees of hospitals and nursing homes
Police, firefighters and other public safety workers
Out-of-home caregivers and household contacts of anyone in any of the high-risk groups.
People who should not get a flu shot include:
Anyone with a fever
Anyone who’s severely allergic to eggs and egg products (ingredients for flu shots are grown inside eggs)
Infants under six months old
Anyone who’s ever had a severe reaction to a flu vaccination (although most people do not experience any side effects from the flu shot)
Anyone with Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), a rare condition that affects the immune system and nerves.
A high-dose flu shot is recommended for people 65 and older to provide additional protection using four inactivated flu stains compared to three used in the regular dose. Ninety percent of flu-related deaths are found in individuals who are age 65 and older. Also note that the cost of the high-dose flu shot is totally covered if you have Medicare.
How the flu shot works
Given as an injection, the flu shot contains killed flu viruses that will not cause the flu but will prepare the body to fight off infection by the live flu virus. Getting a shot of the killed virus means a person is protected against that particular type of live flu virus when he/she makes contact with a contagious individual.
The flu shot is needed yearly. The flu protection wears off yearly since the flu virus is constantly changing. That’s why the vaccine is updated each year to include the most current strains of the virus.
In any given flu season, vaccine effectiveness varies. The Influenza virus itself is totally unpredictable from one year to the next, so the vaccine effectiveness depends on its match to the prevalent year’s viruses, as well as, the general health of the recipient.
In most years, the flu vaccine reduces the average person’s chances of catching the flu by up to 80 percent during the season. Because the vaccine only prevents infection with some of the common yearly viruses that can cause flu-like symptoms, it isn’t a 100 percent guarantee against getting sick. However, usually the flu symptoms will be fewer, short lasting and milder after a flu shot.
Most people do not experience any side effects from the flu shot. Some of those vaccinated may have soreness or swelling at the site of the injection or mild side effects, such as headache or low-grade fever. Although these side effects may last for a day, the flu can make you seriously sick for two to three weeks or longer. Also, serious complications such as pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections and other respiratory problems can occur from the flu. Rarely, will the flu shot cause serious side effects. The occurrence of complications from the flu itself is a much greater risk. I have never had any negative reaction or even soreness from the flu vaccination, including this year.
A common myth about the flu shot is that it can actually cause the flu. But the flu shot used in the United States is made from killed influenza viruses, which means that it’s impossible to catch the flu by receiving it.
Other ways to prevent the flu from spreading
There’s no guaranteed way — including being vaccinated — to prevent anyone from getting the flu. But precautions that can help protect you and your family include:
Avoiding large crowds whenever possible
Practicing good hand washing
Never picking up used tissues
Never sharing cups and eating utensils
Staying home from work or school when someone is sick with the flu
Covering your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze
Many other vaccinations are recommended on a ten-year booster schedule:
Tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough)
Measles, mumps, rubella
The shingles vaccination is recommended for individuals over 60 years old.
Contact your physician for more details regarding your vaccination needs.
Bottom line: One of the best ways to protect your health is with a yearly flu vaccine and keeping up with booster vaccinations. I have been getting the flu shot every year for the past 30 years and I have rarely become ill during the flu season, even though I am in close quarters with people every day in my dental practice.
Enjoy Life and Keep Smiling!
George Malkemus has a Family and Cosmetic Dental Practice in Rohnert Park at 2 Padre Parkway, Suite 200. Call 585-8595, or email info@ malkemusdds.com. Visit Dr. Malkemus’ Web site at http://www.malkemusdds.com