About this time each year I suggest to my patients that they receive a flu vaccine. The flu (also known as influenza) affects the respiratory system and may cause serious complications including bronchitis and pneumonia. Along with antibiotics, anesthesia, chemotherapy and sterile technique, vaccines are one of the miracles of modern medicine.

People who suffer from chronic illnesses including diabetes, cancer, COPD, asthma, liver or kidney disease, HIV or those over 65 should always be vaccinated as a precaution. Women who are pregnant should be vaccinated as well as young children over 6 months of age. It is always a wise idea to get the flu shot prior to the seasonal out break. Flu season usually lasts until mid-March. The early fall months of September/October are really the perfect time for the flu vaccine. I know many of you have strong sentiments against the flu vaccine or any other vaccine. I recommend that you check with your health care provider and see if it is right for you.

  1. Each year the flu vaccine is created to target different flu strains. The way this is accomplished is that certain advisors from the World Health Organization predict which strains will be the most abundant and problematic for that season; the FDA then decides which virus strains should be included. That is why the vaccine must be taken yearly. This year there will be multiple flu vaccines to choose from. Health experts are excited about the various options and are hopeful it will inspire more people to be vaccinated.
  2. According to the CDC only about 42% of people were vaccinated in the 2011-2012 season. Vaccination is still the best way to stop the spread of the flu. The statistics show about 20% of people end up with the flu each season which can lead to hospitalization in those with a weakened immune system. It can make generally healthy people perfectly miserable.
  3. This year’s main vaccine will help prevent H1N1 (swine flu) plus two other strains which are expected to be dominant. A new vaccine will be available for those allergic to eggs called Flu Blok. It is available for people 18-49. The usual flu vaccine contains small amounts of egg proteins used as a binding product in which the virus is grown. People allergic to eggs were previously not allowed to receive the vaccine. Check with your physician to see if you are a candidate. There is also a Flu Zone micro needle which is injected just under the skin (intra dermal). This reduces the fear factor for those who hate needles like the larger hypodermic needle which is injected into the muscle. It is available for people 18-64. Another vaccine called Flu Zone High Dose vaccine will contain higher doses of the dead virus- four strains – for those over 65 years of age since they are more at risk. The higher doses will give them an extra boost.
  4. Never receive a flu vaccine when you are already sick even if it is only a cold. Wait at least 2 weeks after feeling better to get the vaccine.
  5. Nasal spray vaccinations called Flu Mist will be available with 4 strains of virus this year for the first time. The nasal vaccine is approved for people 2-49 years of age but is especially popular with children. You can not be pregnant and take this form of vaccine. The nasal vaccine contains weakened low dose live virus which may cause an increased local immune response especially in the airways and nose. It should resolve in a few days.
  6. The flu vaccine received in the shot form contains dead virus. It takes about 2 weeks to develop immunity since the antibodies are not formed yet. If you get sick after the injection it is because of this 2 week window and is not related to the actual shot.
  7. Each state has different laws on who can administer the flu vaccine. In most states flu shots can be given by a pharmacist at your local or chain drugstore as well as at your physician’s office or your health center at work or school. Hospitals enforce that their employees to get flu vaccines to protect the patients. If they are unwilling they must sign a waiver and wear a facial mask during any patient contact.
  8. Seniors over 65 should be vaccinated with a pneumonia vaccine as well. They can receive it at the same time as long as it is given in the other arm. The pneumonia vaccine is not given yearly. Check with your physician since vaccines do not last forever and you may require a booster in 6 years.
  9. A good site to get more information is www.flu.gov about prevention and treatment. The FDA recommends 17 different vaccines to help prevent illness. Remember flu vaccines are never 100% effective; they usually are effective about 60-70% of the time.
  10. Some people may have a reaction to the vaccine and can experience aches and pains with a low grade fever. This is a side effect of the body producing antibodies and will resolve quickly.
  11. Although it is impossible to completely avoid the flu or colds try to remember these helpful tips:
    • Wash your hands with soap and water frequently.
    • Use hand sanitizer (alcohol based) when soap and water is not available.
    • Sneeze into your elbow instead of your hands.
    • Avoid crowds when possible.
    • Keep the mucous membranes in your noise moist with saline drops. Stay hydrated.
    • Use a humidifier in your home.
    • Do not smoke.
    • Try not to touch eyes, nose or mouth areas.
    • Get fresh air daily even if the air is cold.
    • Consider taking vitamins C, B, D, Zinc and probiotics to maintain a strong immune system.
    • Exercise daily and sleep well to enhance your immune system.

You can do quite a bit to stay healthy this flu season. Take advantage and be free of illness this fall. Good Luck!

NOTE: Consult your doctor first to make sure my recommendations fit your special health needs.