Get the Shot, Not the Flu

September 17, 2012

Every year about this time, at least here in the Midwest, we are all reminded about the importance of getting flu shots.  This year is no different. 

“Influenza, most commonly called ‘the flu,’ is a respiratory illness that is spread by a virus which infects the nose, throat, bronchial airways, and lungs,” says Gregory Harrington, DO an infectious disease physician at Bronson Medical Group--Battle Creek and medical director at the Calhoun County Health Department. “This virus, spread via airborne droplets from coughing and sneezing, is highly contagious.”

The flu is known to cause severe illness and for some, life-threatening complications. Those in the high-risk categories include people 65 and older, children under two, adults and children with chronic health conditions, and those more than three months pregnant.  Complications may include bacterial pneumonia, dehydration, and worsening of chronic conditions such as congestive heart failure, asthma, and diabetes.

What can you do to protect yourself against the flu?  Because the strain of influenza changes from season to season the single best way to prevent the flu is to get an annual flu shot.  

“There are a number of false assumptions about the flu vaccine that I hear around flu season,” says Dr. Harrington. “Because it is made with inactivated virus it cannot give you the flu.  Having said that, it does take a couple of weeks before your body builds up enough antibodies to be protective, so it is possible to ‘get’ the flu in the period shortly after having the shot—but the shot itself does not cause the flu.  For those laboring under this misconception, get the shot, not the flu!”

For those who would rather endure a week of the flu instead of getting a shot, there is a painless option.  FluMist is a ‘live’ influenza vaccine delivered as a nasal mist.  The Food and Drug Administration approved FluMist for healthy children and adolescents between the ages of 5 and 17 and for healthy adults between 18 and 49.  It is not recommended for children under age 5 or adults over 50.  The spray is more expensive than standard shots and could lead to limited cold-like symptoms 24 to 48 hours after vaccination.

One of the simplest methods of avoiding the spread of infection all year round is frequent hand washing, preferably with antibacterial soap from a sanitary dispenser.  Other things that will go a long way in helping are:
  • Avoiding contact with people who are sick
  • Avoiding touching your eyes, nose, or mouth to elude spreading germs
  • If you are sick, do not go to crowded places or to work
  • Covering your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze
  • Washing your hands again and often

For some, and this may seem unavoidable, limit traveling by air.  There appears to be a direct correlation between those who catch the flu and those who have recently flown in an airplane.  And air travelers are a major reason the flu moves from the ‘sporadic’ to ‘regional’ outbreaks in terms of picking it up and than scattering it at every port of call.

If you have questions about whether you should get the shot, contact your healthcare provider.  Do not wait until you start to feel achy—get your influenza vaccination as early in the season as possible.  Get the shot, not the flu!

Bronson Battle Creek is a 218-bed hospital that provides full outpatient and inpatient acute care including robotic surgery, diagnostics, and rehabilitation services; 100% all private rooms.  It also offers world-class diagnostic capabilities including PET/CT imaging, freestanding ‘open’ and traditional MRI, CT (16- and 64-slice), and 3.0 Tesla MRI.  Bronson Battle Creek has been recognized nationally as one of the safest hospitals, and has been a leader in the development of electronic health records as evidenced by multiple honors as one of America’s ‘most wired’ and ‘most wireless’ hospitals. The Commission on Cancer of the American College of Surgeons recognizes the Bronson Battle Creek Cancer Care Center as a Comprehensive Community Cancer Program, and the only hospital in Michigan to receive the CoC’s Outstanding Achievement Award three times in a row. Specialty services include the county’s largest accredited sleep center and a wound-healing center with hyperbaric oxygen therapy.

Flu Vaccine Facts & Myths’

Myth:    The flu is not a serious disease.
Facts:    Influenza (flu) is a very serious disease of the nose, throat, and lungs, and it can lead to pneumonia.  Each year about 200,000 people in the U.S. are hospitalized and about 24,000 people die because of the flu.  Most who die are 65 years and older, but small children less than 2 years of age are as likely as those over 65 to have to go to the hospital because of the flu.

Myth:  The flu shot can cause the flu.
Facts:    The flu shot cannot cause the flu.  Some people get a little soreness or redness where they get the shot.  It goes away in a day or two.  Serious problems from the flu shot are extremely rare.

Myth:    The flu shot does not work.
Facts:    Most of the time the flu shot will prevent the flu.  In scientific studies, the effectiveness of the flu shot has ranged from 70-90% when there is a good match between circulating viruses and those in the vaccine.  Getting the vaccine is your best protection against this disease.

Myth:    The side effects are worse than the flu.
Facts:    The worst side effect you are likely to get from a shot is perhaps a sore arm.  The nasal mist flu vaccine can cause nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat, and cough.  The risk of a severe allergic reaction is less than 1 in 4 million.

Myth:    Only older people need a flu vaccine.
Facts:    The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends everyone over the age of 6 months receive the influenza vaccine.  Adults and children with conditions like asthma, diabetes, heart disease, and kidney disease especially need to get a flu shot.   

Myth:  I am healthy and do not get the flu.
Facts:  Don’t be fooled, healthy people can get the flu too.  In fact, most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning one to two days before symptoms develop and up to five days after becoming sick.  

If you do come down with the flu, do NOT go to work or to school.  Stay home, rest, and drink plenty of liquids.  Remember too, frequent hand washing and covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze will go a long way in reducing the spread of the flu.   


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