As a mother of two, I always take the necessary precautions to ensure that my children are happy and healthy. As a family, we eat healthy food, get lots of exercise and sleep and every fall we get our flu shot. There is a lot of debate and myths regarding the pros and cons of getting the flu vaccine and surprisingly only 50% of Americans get vaccinated against the flu every year. It shocks me because getting vaccinated not only keeps you protected against getting a severe, life-threatening form of the flu, it also provides protection against passing it on to someone else who may not be so lucky.
Although difficult to assess, annual flu epidemics are thought to result in between three and five million cases of severe illness and between 250,000 and 500,000 deaths every year around the world. Most deaths currently associated with influenza in industrialized countries occur among the elderly over 65 years of age.
On average, 20,000 people die in the United States each year due to complications from the flu. While some years the flu deaths are much less severe – only a few thousand – other years as many as 40,000 Americans die. Where the world is utterly obsessed with the thought of getting ebola in which there is currently no vaccine, millions do not get the flu vaccine which can save lives.
I am such a strong supporter of the flu vaccine but understand that there are many people out there who believe false myths or don’t fully understand the benefits of getting yourself and your family vaccinated each year. Last week, I had the honor of speaking with Dr. Leonard Friedland an expert on infectious diseases and immunization. He is a licensed pediatrician and former Division Chief for Pediatric Emergency Medicine at Temple University School of Medicine.
Here are some of the facts and myths of the flu vaccine and why it should matter to you and your family (all facts provided by the CDC):
What exactly is the flu?
The seasonal flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by flu viruses. It spreads between people and can cause mild to severe illness. In some cases, the flu can lead to death. In the United States, flu season occurs in the fall and winter. Seasonal flu activity usually peaks in January or February, but it can occur as early as October and as late as May.
How is the flu spread?
Most experts believe that you get the flu when a person with the flu coughs, sneezes, or talks and droplets containing their germs land in your mouth or nose. You can also get the flu by touching a surface or object that has the flu virus on it and then touching your mouth, eyes, or nose.
Is the flu different than a cold?
Yes, the flu is much more series than a common cold and extremely contagious. A flu usually involves the following symptoms:
- Fever* or feeling feverish/chills
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle or body aches
- Fatigue (tiredness)
- Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.
* It’s important to note that not everyone with flu will have a fever.
What are the negative consequences of getting the flu?
Flu is a severe infection. If you have ever had full-blown influenza (like I did several years ago) it is absolutely miserable and can be extremely serious. Hundreds of thousands of people are hospitalized each year due to complications of the flu and unfortunately thousands die. The flu also causes many work and school days missed. The WHO estimates that recent estimates put the cost of influenza epidemics to the economy at US$ 71-167 billion per year in the United States alone.
Who needs to get vaccinated?
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that almost everyone six months and older get a flu vaccination each year. It is important to note that even if you are healthy you should get a vaccine.
Seniors (over 65) are especially encouraged to get a flu vaccine every year since people over 65 make up 90% of all deaths due to complications from the flu. Pregnant mothers, children under five years of age (and over 6 months) and anyone with a comprised immune system and/or other medical conditions is highly encouraged to get vaccinated.
What are some of the misperception regarding the flu vaccine?
- A common misperception is that the flu is just like having a cold. This is not true as the flu can become much more serious and cause death.
- Belief that the flu vaccine itself can cause flu. FALSE.
Per the CDC:
A flu vaccine cannot cause flu illness. Flu vaccines that are administered with a needle are currently made in two ways: the vaccine is made either with a) flu vaccine viruses that have been ‘inactivated’ and are therefore not infectious, or b) with no flu vaccine viruses at all (which is the case for recombinant influenza vaccine). The nasal spray flu vaccine does contain live viruses. However, the viruses are attenuated (weakened), and therefore cannot cause flu illness. The weakened viruses are cold-adapted, which means they are designed to only cause infection at the cooler temperatures found within the nose. The viruses cannot infect the lungs or other areas where warmer temperatures exist.
While a flu vaccine cannot give you flu illness, there are different side effects that may be associated with getting a flu shot or a nasal spray flu vaccine. These side effects are mild and short-lasting, especially when compared to symptoms of bad case of flu (For flu shot, side effects may include soreness, redness, or swelling where the shot was given, low-grade favor and or aches. For the nasal spray, side effects from the nasal spray may include runny nose, wheezing, headache, committing, muscle aches, fever).
- It is also important to note that the flu vaccine can take up to two weeks to be fully effective meaning that a person may come down with the flu during that time period or even get a cold and mistakenly believe it is from receiving the flu shot.
I got the flu vaccine but still got influenza? Did the flu vaccine not work?
It is important to note that each year, flu vaccines are made months before flu season each year based on scientific research that determines what strains are most prevalent. Therefore, the flu vaccine is not 100% effective against all strains of the flu. However, it is still highly recommended that you get vaccinated each year because if you do get the flu, it is most likely will be a much less severe form that if you had not been vaccinated at all.
I am not convinced that I should get the flu vaccine. I never get sick.
As a society, I believe it is important to think of everyone else around us. The flu is highly contagious and even if you don’t mind getting miserably sick, how would you feel if you passed it onto a child, a senior or someone with a comprised immune system who dies from it? I personally could never live with that myself.
Can I still get vaccinated?
Yes! The flu season is just beginning and there is still time to get you and your family vaccinated. Most pharmacies, health clinics and doctors offices provide the flu shot and mist. Go to www.flu.gov to find the clinic nearest you.
Want to learn more?
Check out the CDC website for more information on the flu by clicking here. You can also go to www.flu.gov to track where the flu has hit, where to get vaccinated and any additional facts you would like to know.
The bottom line: The single best thing we can do to protect our family and other people is to get vaccinated!
Additional stats from the CDC:
- A recent study* showed that flu vaccine reduced children’s risk of flu-related pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) admission by 74% during flu seasons from 2010-2012.
- One study showed that flu vaccination was associated with a 71% reduction in flu-related hospitalizations among adults of all ages and a 77% reduction among adults 50 years of age and older during the 2011-2012 flu season.
- Flu vaccination is an important preventive tool for people with chronic health conditions. Vaccination was associated with lower rates of some cardiac events among people with heart disease, especially among those who had had a cardiac event in the past year. Flu vaccination also has been shown to be associated with reduced hospitalizations among people with diabetes (79%) and chronic lung disease (52%).
- Vaccination helps protect women during pregnancy and their babies for up to 6 months after they are born. One study showed that giving flu vaccine to pregnant women was 92% effective in preventing hospitalization of infants for flu.
- Other studies have shown that vaccination can reduce the risk of flu-related hospitalizations in older adults. A study that looked at flu vaccine effectiveness over the course of three flu seasons estimated that flu vaccination lowered the risk of hospitalizations by 61% in people 50 years of age and older.
Did you get your flu shot?
This is an original post written for World Moms Blog by Nicole Melancon of Third Eye Mom.