Your Health: Influenza vaccine
by Terry Hollenbeck, M.D.
Oct 18, 2012 | 1683 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print

I would like to make my annual plea for everyone to get a flu shot.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is a good supply of the vaccine available this year, enough for 135 million doses.

Influenza, commonly called the flu, is unpredictable. During the 2009-10 season the “swine flu” was a pandemic, causing thousands of hospitalizations and many deaths worldwide.

It is estimated that during an average flu season, 250,000 to 500,000 people die worldwide from complications of the flu. Although last year’s flu season was relatively mild, there were still numerous deaths, including 35 children who died of influenza in the U.S.

This year’s vaccine contains two new strains, plus the same H1N1 as last year. Children 6 months and older and almost all adults should be vaccinated, starting now. The vaccine’s effectiveness should last all season. Children 8 years and younger need two doses only in the first year they are vaccinated.

Flu shots are safe at any stage of pregnancy and are especially important for expectant mothers, as they are much more likely to have a serious illness resulting from the flu and could thus be more likely to miscarry or have a premature delivery. A pregnant woman’s flu shot stimulates her immune system, creating antibodies that cross the placenta into the fetus. That protects her baby during the first six months after birth, before the infant is old enough to be vaccinated.

There’s no need to delay receiving the flu shot because of a mild illness, but don’t get a shot if you have a fever. Waiting until the fever is gone or until you’re feeling better after a more moderate or severe illness is the rule.

Many people worry that a flu shot might give them the flu. That is just not true. The viruses found in the flu shots have been inactivated (killed), and dead germs cannot cause illness. They do, however, stimulate the immune system to create antibodies to help prevent the flu.

The only people who should not get a flu shot are those who:

- Are allergic to egg products.

- Have already had a bad reaction to influenza vaccine (extremely rare).

- Have had an episode of a neurological disease called Guillain-Barre syndrome.

A few minor side effects may briefly occur from the flu shot, such as a mild ache and redness at the injection site, a low-grade fever and mild body aches.

I look at it this way: Why not get a vaccination that has minimal side effects and has a good chance at preventing an illness that could make you feel terrible for a week and also make you miss work? It’s a cheap form of health insurance.

- Terry Hollenbeck, M.D., is an urgent-care physician at Palo Alto Medical Foundation Santa Cruz in Scotts Valley. Readers can view his previous columns on his website, http://valleydoctor.wordpress.com, or email him at valleydoctor@sbcglobal.net. Information in this column is not intended to replace advice from your own health care professional. For any medical concern, consult your own doctor.

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