Every year around this time, millions of people receive seasonal flu shots at their doctors office, or at their local pharmacy. Yet, it seems that in many cases, people really do not understand just what the seasonal flu shot will protect them against, and what it won’t.
To begin, it helps to understand what the seasonal flu shot will protect you against. The seasonal flu shot is designed to provide protection against several strains, or types, of the influenza virus. This year, 2010, the H1N1 virus is among those strains of virus. Influenza is a serious illness that generally affects the upper respiratory tract, as well as causing high fevers, body aches, and a general feeling of being very unwell. In high risk populations, such as the elderly, small children, and people with chronic diseases, influenza can lead to hospitalization, and even death. It is estimated that the seasonal flu shot will provide 70% to 90% protection against influenza in those who get the shot.
When making the choice as to whether or not to get the seasonal flu shot, I feel that being an informed consumer is always the best route to take, and there is a lot of misunderstanding about the seasonal flu shot among the general population. It is for this reason that I write this article, because if you are going to let someone stick a needle into your arm and inject some substance, I think you really should know as much about it as you can. So, here are the things that the seasonal flu shot will not protect you against.
Gatroenteritis, aka, The Stomach Flu— When someone comes down with a stomach bug, with the nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, it is not uncommon to hear an uninformed person say to them, or write on their Facebook wall, “If you’d gotten the flu shot, you wouldn’t be sick right now.” WRONG! Gastroenteritis is caused by a group of viruses that cause disruption in the gastrointestinal tract. The term, “the stomach flu,” is a complete misnomer. Gastroenteritis is not the flu, as in influenza, and the seasonal flu shot will not protect you against it. If you must call gastroenteritis the stomach-anything, call it a stomach bug and do not think that your flu shot failed you. It didn’t.
The Common Cold— While the common cold can leave you feeling as though you have been hit by a car, influenza will leave you feeling like you have been hit by a train, or wishing that you would be hit by a car just to put you out of your misery. While the common cold can lead to more serious infections, in most cases, a few days of rest and fluids will have you back on your feet. If you have had influenza in your life, you undoubtedly know just how much more painful it is than the common cold. If you have never had influenza, trust me when I say that the common cold is child’s play in comparison. The seasonal flu shot is not meant to protect you from the common cold.
Bronchitis— Bronchitis is a secondary bacterial infection that may come on the heels of a cold. A cold that moves into your chest will cause a cough, and if you begin to cough up mucus that is yellow, or green in color, you need to visit your doctor for a round of antibiotics. While influenza also targets the respiratory tract, it is a virus, and anything that you cough up will be clear, not yellow or green. Bronchitis can also result from influenza and needs to be treated by a doctor, but the flu shot will not prevent bronchitis, as it a bacterial infection, and the seasonal flu shot protects against influenza viruses.
It is my hope that I have cleared up a few seasonal flu shot misconceptions, promoted better informed consumerism, and have aided in a better, overall, understanding of the seasonal flu shot. If you choose to get the seasonal flu shot, you may still get all manner of other unpleasant cold weather illnesses, but chances are good that you will not get a case of the honest-to-goodness influenza virus, and that is a very good thing.