flu is no joke
Prevention is the best treatment.
No matter how much real evidence is out there, many refuse to believe the benefit of vaccinations. Some will claim that doctors “push” vaccines because we receive kickbacks. Well, if you consider not having a bunch of people with a horrible, life threatening virus breathing on me, then yes I guess that is a kickback. But no, I will receive no monetary compensation by trying to protect your life. It just happens to be my job. I still remember several years ago when we had the Ebola scare and people were pleading for a vaccine for this extremely rare disease. Yet these were the same people that would refuse a flu vaccine. Blows my mind. Last year, over 80,000 people died from complications related to influenza. 80,000!! I know that there are a lot of questions out there about the flu vaccine and a lot of myths have been perpetuated. While there is a small group of people for whom this vaccine may not be appropriate, for the majority of people this is not something that should be skipped. Let’s break it down based on the most common reasons patients give for wanting to forgo the flu vaccine.
“The flu vaccine gave me the flu”
This is probably the most frequent reason I hear when someone tells me they do not want the flu vaccination. No, you will not get the flu from the flu shot. The vaccine contains weakened or inactivated virus that stimulates your body to make antibodies to fight the real influenza virus. Now there are a couple caveats to this. One is that it takes about two weeks to build up these antibodies, so if you are exposed to the flu in this time period you can still develop symptoms. In addition, the flu vaccine is developed every year based on what strains are believed to be most prevalent in the upcoming year. It is not 100% effective every year and there may be strains out there that were not included in the vaccine. Luckily, though, by receiving the flu shot your body will still respond to a slightly different strain which usually will minimize the symptoms and shorten the duration of the illness if you do contract influenza. And for anyone that has suffered with influenza this can be critical. Also, many people will get a common cold or another infection that is not actually due to the influenza virus but people will assume that it is the flu. Every illness during the winter is not, in fact, influenza, and you can still contract a number of different bacterial and viral infections that unfortunately not all vaccines can protect against.
“i don’t like vaccines in general. they are dangerous and cause health issues.”
That Lancet article by Dr. Andrew Wakefield will just not go away. The 1998 article linked the MMR vaccine with autism and has had people worried ever since. However the children that Wakefield studied were carefully selected and some of Wakefield’s research was actually funded by lawyers that were involved in lawsuits against vaccine manufacturers. The paper was retracted 12 years after it was originally published due to these inconsistencies and the finding that there really was no consistent link between the MMR vaccine and autism. This has not stopped many from skipping vaccines altogether, and unfortunately this has lead to an increase in childhood diseases that had all but been eliminated. Measles, whooping cough, and mumps are just a few that have been trying to make a comeback, along with influenza in the winter. Now that does not mean that you may not experience some mild side effects from the flu vaccine. You may have a sore arm at the inoculation site for a day or so after receiving the shot. Others may develop a low grade fever and mild muscle aches which is typically just the body’s physiologic response as it is building up antibodies. The majority of individuals do not experience these side effects, but even if you do, isn’t a day of mild discomfort worth not having a week or more of misery with the flu? Or the possibility of even ending up in the hospital?
Very rarely a vaccine can cause a hypersensitivity or allergic reaction. If you have ever experienced severe anaphylaxis (difficulty breathing or airway swelling) after receiving a vaccine this would be a contraindication. Guillain-Barre Syndrome is another very rare occurrence that has been reported following administration of the flu vaccine, although the CDC reports that safety monitoring over the years has not detected a clear link between Guillain-Barre and the influenza vaccine. Studies suggest that the risk of developing GBS after actual influenza is higher than the potential risk of GBS following vaccination. Every year 1-2 people per 100,000 develop GBS regardless of flu vaccination status. (1)
“i’m healthy, I don’t need a flu shot”
There are clearly individuals that are more susceptible to the flu and who will suffer more serious health consequences if they contract this deadly virus. However, anyone can get the flu, even young healthy people. Everyone over 6 months is advised to receive the flu vaccine, including pregnant women. And trust me, if you’ve ever had the real honest to goodness influenza virus, you do not want it again. Dealing with fevers, body aches, debilitating cough, and just overall weakness and malaise is no way to spend your days, especially for the health conscious person that wants to keep up with their fitness and training regimen. The flu will set you back a couple weeks. Also, you can prevent the spread of the virus to those that are more susceptible by getting vaccinated.
“the flu is just a really bad cold”
According to the CDC, 80,000 people died from complications from influenza last winter
Nope, influenza is a very serious virus. Young children, those over 65 years of age, and individuals with medical comorbidities such as COPD, diabetes, and immunosuppressed states are especially susceptible. The flu can predispose the body to developing concomitant bacterial pneumonia and can even progress to septicemia (infection in the bloodstream). The infection can progress rapidly and the signs and symptoms need to be recognized and addressed by a medical professional immediately. PEOPLE DIE EVERY YEAR FROM THE FLU. It is not an illness to take lightly.
surviving flu season
There are a number of ways to be proactive in preventing the flu. This of course includes the flu vaccine as noted above, but there are other easy preventive measures you can take. Wash your hands with soap and water on a regular basis especially after making contact with others that are sick or after coughing or sneezing. Avoid sharing utensils and glasses and wipe down surfaces at home with an antibacterial cleaner. Despite your best efforts, unfortunately you may still develop symptoms consistent with influenza. Fevers, chills, muscle aches, fatigue, and persistent cough are possible indicators that you have the flu. Your doctor can perform a flu swab to determine if you do indeed have the flu. If you catch the symptoms early you can be started on an antiviral medication. However, this is only beneficial within the first 48 hours of symptoms, which is why it is important to be proactive. Let’s be safe this flu season. Remember, prevention is the best treatment.
- Vellozzi, C, Igbal S, Broder K. “Guillian-Barre syndrome, influenza, and influenza vaccination: the epidemiologic evidence. Clin Infect Dis. 2014 Apr; 58 (8):1149-55.