It's that special time of year again...so please give yourself (and your family) the GIFT of a flu vaccine NOW so you are not struck down with this illness at the busiest time of year! Flu shots have been available for a few weeks and seem to be available everywhere. Clinics, schools, grocery stores, pharmacies and many employers are all offering flu shots these days. Add a flu shot to your grocery list- I'll bet the pharmacy there is stocked and you won't even have to add an extra stop on your weekly errands.
Who should get the flu vaccine?
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC) recommends annual flu vaccines for everyone over the age of six months.
What is different this year?
As with last year, we have quadrivalent vaccines (that include protection against four strains- 2 influenza type A strains, and 2 influenza type B strains) in addition to the usual trivalent vaccines. Pick one or the other, you don't need both. If you have egg allergies, make sure to ask for the trivalent vaccine that is egg-free.
Didn't I hear that the flu vaccine this year doesn't match the strain that is going around?
Well...unfortunately, yes. We are early in the season, and the CDC is seeing that most of the diagnosed cases are a result of the H3N2 strain (as opposed to the H1N1 that was so devastating several years ago), and although that strain is included in the vaccine this year, there has been a mutation in roughly half of the circulating virus that makes it resistant to the vaccine. The take-home message, however, is that even if the vaccine is LESS effective, it is still the best protection that we have AND it should still reduce the severity of the infection if you happen to contract one of those mutated strains.
But I hate needles...no problem, just ask for the vaccine that is delivered via a nasal spray! The only caveat here is that this is a live vaccine, so there are some restrictions: you must be age 2-49 years, not pregnant, have no major problems with immunity (such as having AIDS or cancer), not take aspirin daily, and not have asthma.
Hate needles and have asthma? There is also a trivalent shot that has a tiny needle which is injected just below your skin, rather than into the muscle.
What is FLU? Influenza is not a simple cold, nor is it a twenty four hour stomach virus. The flu causes fever, chills, cough, runny/stuffy nose, muscle aches, headaches, fatigue, and sometimes involves vomiting and diarrhea (more often in kids). Colds and allergies tend to bother you from the neck up- stuffy, sore throat, headache- but don't knock you down for the count, and coughs are generally less bothersome.
How is the FLU spread? This virus is spread from infected people when the cough, sneeze or talk, via tiny respiratory droplets, and the scary part is that you are contagious a full day BEFORE you develop symptoms (as well as for about a week after you feel sick.)
How can you prevent the FLU? Get vaccinated. Get vaccinated. Get vaccinated!
Who should NOT get vaccinated? Those with bad reactions to vaccine in the past; infants younger than 6 months; and those people with a history of an uncommon disease called Guillain-Barre. If you are sick with a fever, wait till this illness is over before getting the vaccine.