Whether you ‘believe’ in flu vaccinations or not, as long as you are informed to the risks and benefits of using vaccines, as an adult, that is totally your choice to not get them. However, when it comes to your children, really learn the risks of not vaccinating your children…the flu is more serious than most people think, it can be devastating to a child, and you cannot keep them in a bubble of protection forever. You can do whatever you want for yourself, but arm your child with the protection their immune system needs to ward off the flu this season.
I’ve given you all reasons why you should get your flu shot this year (every year, really), but there are some other reasons you should think about getting the flu shot. The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) released a study recently that found people who got the flu shot decreased their risk of having a heart attack, stroke, or sudden cardiac death by almost 1/3rd!
How does this happen?
When you get the flu, the body has a huge immune response which causes swelling and inflammation generally throughout the body, which is why you feel body aches, soreness, have headaches, etc. On a vascular level, this inflammation can cause any plaques that may have formed from a build up of fats or other irritants, to become looser unstable, and they can then get into the blood supply, travel, and cause a stroke or heart attack. Also, because you may have lung involvement, it is can be more difficult to breathe, and your oxygen stores might be a little lower than normal, which can put added stress on your heart, which can cause heart failure. By preventing the immune response from the flu, by getting the flu shot, you will be putting your body under less stress and reduce your risk. There was a study of 6,700 people, in which about a third of them had some form of heart disease, and they found that of those people who got the flu vaccination, there was a 36% lower risk of having a cardiac event the following year AND if people had recently had a heart attack or stroke, their rates of having another event were found to be reduced even further.
Any opportunity to reduce your risk of an immune response and major inflammation, will cause less stress to your heart and your vasculature, and decrease your risk of stroke and heart attack. Obviously getting a flu shot will not completely prevent your risk, but I think anything that will help to reduce the risk of stroke or heart attack is worthwhile. The study should be reproduced and be larger to prove its validity, but I truly encourage anyone with heart disease, post heart attack, or stroke to get the flu shot. And, if you are worried or concerned, speak to your Healthcare Practitioner (HCP) about your risks!
With Flu season looming and everyone asking if you’ve gotten a flu shot, if you plan on it, and hearing (my favorite) “Eh, I’m not going to get it, I’m healthy and it’s only the flu, I don’t get what the big deal is…” That statement clearly comes from someone who hasn’t had the flu!! Since I became a nurse, I have always gotten the flu vaccine, mostly because it is offered to you at the hospital, and they come to give it to you….it’s actually hard NOT to get it (and it is currently required at my hospital that all healthcare workers get it.) But the year that I lived in the UK, I did get my US flu vaccine and considered myself all set, until I flew throughout the EU and to Bali and got the flu; the sickest I have been as an adult and it was MISERABLE. So, yes, I am a believer in the flu vaccine, and it is one of the few vaccinations that I really encourage everyone to get.
Why is the flu shot such a big deal?
Approximately 49,000 people die each year directly from the flu or flu related causes. In 2009 (Apr-Oct) approximately 34 million people were infected with H1N1, causing millions of hospital admissions, days of lost work, money out of YOUR pocket for co-pays/meds/lost work, and not to mention one of the highest death rates in children and adults from the flu!! If getting a quick shot can prevent all that, why not get it?
There are two different vaccines out there for the flu:
A nasal spray and a flu shot. Both are protective of three different virus strains that the CDC research indicates will be most virulent each season. For example, these 2010-2011 Flu vaccines will protect against the 2009 H1N1 and the H3N2 as well as the Influenza B virus. After about 2 weeks, you will build up antibodies against the flu that will help prevent you getting infected, and if you do, it will be a very mild form, like a cold. The flu shot (actual injection) is an inactivated (not living) form of the virus that is injected directly into your arm, and is appropriate for people over the age of 6 months, and for people who are healthy or with chronic medical conditions. After the injection, you can have redness at the site, soreness, fever (low) and some aches that last 1-2 days. The nasal-spray flu vaccine is made with living, but weakened, flu virus that do not cause the flu and it is approved for healthy people age 2-49 years old who are not pregnant. After the nasal-spray vaccine, you can have some side effects (for adults) such as: runny nose, headache, sore throat, and cough. For children, the side effects can be: runny nose, wheezing, headache, vomiting, muscle ache, and fever. Since the flu season is technically October to February, you can get vaccinated at any time, but I always suggest to get vaccinated as early as you can!
Who should get vaccinated?
The CDC suggests that EVERYONE 6 months and older should get vaccinated yearly! But here is a list of “high risk” people who should definitely get vaccinated:
-Children younger than 5 years old (because they start preschool) but even children under 2 are at risk and have low immune systems- they are also at high risk
-People 50-year-old and over
-People of any age with chronic conditions (i.e. asthma)
-People who live in nursing homes or long-term care facilities
-People who live with or care for those at high risk:
Household contacts of those at high risk for the flu
Household contacts and home care givers for those less than 6 months old
Who should NOT be vaccinated?
-People with an allergy to chicken eggs
-People that have had a severe reaction to Influenza vaccine in the past
-People who have developed Guillian-Barre syndrome* within 6 weeks of a flu vaccine
-Children under 6 months of age
-People with moderate illness that have a current fever (wait until the fever subsides and then you can get a flu shot)
*(Just as a quick aside, Guillian-Barre syndrome is an autoimmune disorder that affects the peripheral nervous system and it is activated by an infectious process; basically you lose control/function of all of your muscles from the bottom of your body up, and remember that your lungs are a muscle, so it usually requires a hospital admission and a breathing tube with an acute attack!! So, you would know if you had it in the past!)
I hope you all are encouraged to go out and get a flu shot soon, they are available at pharmacies and clinics everywhere!!