HomeNewsFAQs about influenza and the flu vaccine

FAQs about influenza and the flu vaccine

Some helpful answers to your pressing questions about the flu and flu shots -by Dr. Alan Laird, Chief Medical Officer and Family Medicine Physician
Q. Is the flu season expected to be particularly bad this year? A. Since the flu starts in July in Australia, some authorities look to Australia to try to predict what it will be like for the fall and winter in the U.S. This year has been more difficult in Australia. However, the only thing we can absolutely predict about the flu season in the US is, that it will be unpredictable. And if you get then the flu, then for you the flu season was a bad one. Q. Are there any concerns about the flu season in our region? A. We have no more than our usual concerns about the flu season here. We would follow the recommendations of the CDC (Center for Disease Control) for getting a flu shot, staying home if you are sick, staying away from people with the flu, and using good hand hygiene (washing your hands). Q. What are the symptoms of influenza? A. Usually these include: fever, cough (usually dry), muscle aches, fatigue, headache, sore throat and runny nose. There may be some stomach upset. Influenza tends to be a respiratory-based illness (head, nose, lungs) as opposed to vomiting and diarrhea that gets called the “stomach flu.” That is also viral, but not the influenza virus. Q. Can you tell us about the flu vaccine and some people’s concerns? A. This is hard to answer as there are many reasons a person might think a flu shot is “not the best.” Some people do not “like” shots. I do not like Brussels sprouts, but they are still good for me. Some feel they have gotten the flu from a previous vaccine. Although it is highly unlikely this happened, there are many reasons they could get sick in the period right after the shot. They may have already been infected, but were not yet feeling the effect of the infection (called the incubation phase). They may have a different illness that acts like the flu (fever, cough, muscle aches are common with many illnesses). Once I got sick on a rollercoaster, but I did not give up riding rollercoasters. Some believe the vaccine will not be a good match by the time the flu gets here. But even if it is not a good match, it still provides some protection and may make the flu less severe. Some folks are opposed to vaccines as a whole for what they believe are complications from the vaccines or agents in the vaccines. That is a very long discussion. In a short answer, please go and experience an epidemic in an unvaccinated third world country. The suffering is immense and deadly. We can argue about causality of side effects, but it cannot be argued that the vaccines are effective and decrease the disease. We tend to forget (or not realize that) if we have not had a recent bad epidemic. Q. So what are the possible consequences of not getting a flu vaccine? A. The biggest consequence is if you get the flu. That can be as simple as feeling terrible and missing some work. But other complications can include pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections, hospitalization and even death. Q. Are there certain people who should definitely be vaccinated? A. Most everyone should get the flu shot and here is why: There is a period of time when you have the flu, but your body is not yet reacting to it. You are shedding the virus (spreading the virus) but you still feel healthy. That is because the virus lives in the cells of our body and we have to kill the cells infected with the virus. There is a window of time that you can infect others, but do not feel sick. And you are still infective for 5-7 days after becoming sick (in some cases longer). So please consider getting the flu shot for your own health. But if not for you, get it for those around you, so you are not the source of their infection.     There are only two types of people who should not get a flu shot: Those who have had a life threating reaction to eggs (not just a rash or food allergy) and those who have had GBS (Guillain-Barré Syndrome). If you have had one of those conditions, then discuss the situation with your trusted healthcare provider to you help decide what is right for you.