With influenza vaccination season upon us, now is the time to think about getting flu shots. The vaccines are generally available for distribution beginning in October and extending into December or later. Flu season typically hits Pennsylvania in December and can last as late as May. Timing of the flu shot is important because it takes about two weeks for the body to develop protection after vaccination.
This year, 100 million doses of the flu vaccine are available (16 percent more than last year) and demand for the vaccine can get high—which is good, because the single best way to prevent the flu is to get vaccinated each fall.
Influenza is a serious illness, considering the following:
- Influenza is the sixth leading cause of death among adults in the United States.
- Influenza is a highly contagious disease that is spread by coughing, sneezing, direct physical contact with objects that carry the virus, such as doorknobs and phones.
- Symptoms of influenza can be severe and can last for two weeks.
- Symptoms may include high fever, extreme fatigue, headache and body aches.
There are some common myths about influenza and the influenza vaccination, including:
Influenza is just a bad cold
The fact is influenza is caused by the influenza virus and is much more serious than the common cold. Each year approximately 114,000 Americans are hospitalized or die from influenza and its complications.
The injectable influenza vaccine can give people influenza
The fact is the injectable vaccine is made from killed virus, so people cannot get influenza from the flu shot. Immunization is 70 to 90 percent effective in healthy individuals who are younger than 65 years of age.
People who feel healthy do not need the flu vaccine
The fact is healthy people can still spread the virus to others. Approximately 50 percent of infected people have no symptoms, but are still contagious.
Although many people receive the influenza vaccination every year, there are still many who choose not to receive the vaccination. Their reasons for not getting vaccinated vary—sometimes built around misconception about influenza and the vaccinations, and sometimes ranging from a variety of other excuses, such as the side effects from the flu shots (sore arm, tenderness, etc.) or fear of injections and needles.
Still, most physicians, the Centers for Disease Control and other health care agencies recommend influenza vaccinations in the majority of cases, particularly for individuals who are at high risk for complications from influenza. These include:
- Children aged 6-59 months
- Pregnant women
- People 50 years of age and older
- People of any age with certain chronic medical conditions
- People who live in nursing homes and other long term care facilities
There are some people who should not be vaccinated without first consulting a physician. These include:
- People who have a severe allergy to chicken eggs
- People who have had a severe reaction to an influenza vaccination in the past
- People who have developed Guillain-Barre Syndrome within six weeks of getting the influenza vaccine previously
- Children less than 6 months of age
- People who have a moderate or severe illness with a fever should wait to get vaccinated until their symptoms lessen
Those who want the flu vaccination can typically get them at a number of places, including doctors' offices, workplaces, health clinics and centers, pharmacies, grocery stores, and senior centers.
Jan McKenna is an employee health nurse at Mount Nittany Medical Center.