As a volunteer working at the local Health Department, I have learned quite a lot about immunizations. This is the time of the year that everyone is aware of flu shots and some myths surrounding them. It seems that all the major drug store chains are offering immunizations too, making it unnecessary to make a doctor appointment just for the shot. So here are a few facts to help you decide if getting that flu shot is for you or not.
So just what is influenza?
Known primarily by its nickname “flu” is a highly contagious viral infection of the nose, throat and lungs that ranks as one of the most severe illnesses of the winter season. Influenza is spread easily from person to person primarily when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Influenza may lead to hospitalization or even death, especially for the elderly. An estimated 10% to 20% of the population contracts influenza annually.
What adults are at risk?
People 65 years of age and older
Residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities housing anyone of any age with chronic medical conditions
People with chronic disorders of the lungs or heart
People who are less able to fight infections because of a disease they were born with, infection with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), treatment with drugs such as long-term steroids, and/or treatment for cancer with x-rays or drugs.
People, including pregnant women, who have required regular medical follow-up or hospitalization during the preceding year because of chronic metabolic diseases (including diabetes mellitus), kidney diseases and blood cell diseases such as sickle cell anemia
Health care workers and others, including household members, in contact with people in high-risk groups
Anyone who wishes to reduce their chance of catching influenza, particularly those who provide essential community services
What are the symptoms of influenza?
Typical influenza illness is characterized by abrupt onset of high fever, chills, a dry cough, headache, runny nose, sore throat, and muscle and joint pain. Unlike other common respiratory infections, influenza can cause extreme fatigue lasting several days.
How is influenza prevented?
The influenza vaccine is the best protection against the influenza virus. Because the influenza virus changes from year to year, it is important to get vaccinated against influenza on a yearly basis because the benefit of the flu shot only remains protective for about a year.
Is the vaccine safe?
The vaccine is very safe and effective and generally has few side effects. There may be some soreness, redness or swelling at injection site. Other possible mild side effects include a headache and low-grade fever for a day after the vaccination. In general, the benefits far outweigh the risks and above all, you cannot get influenza from the vaccine.