Doctor’s Tip: Get your flu shot
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends a flu shot by the end of October for everyone over the age of 6 months. Children under the age of 6 months should not receive flu shots, so it’s particularly important that those children’s care givers are immunized. Children 6 months and older need two flu shots, four weeks apart — the first one should be given by the end of September. During the 2016-2017 flu season, there were 77 deaths in children in the U.S. that probably would have been prevented had they received flu shots.
Adults need just one shot, and people 65 years and older need an extra-strength shot. The 1918 Spanish flu epidemic resulted in 675,000 American deaths. About 56,000 flu-related deaths occurred in the U.S. during the 2012-2013 flu season. Of lesser concern but still important is that influenza accounts for many days of lost work and school absences.
Influenza is caused by viruses, which do not respond to antibiotics. The most severe forms of flu are influenza A and B, with C being a milder disease. In temperate climates such as ours, flu viruses are usually active during the colder months — late fall, winter and early spring. It takes about two weeks for the shots to “kick in.” Flu shots can be obtained in most doctors’ offices, in pharmacies, and at public health offices. Flu shots are tweaked every year, due to “genetic drift” in the influenza viruses. Allergy to eggs is not a contraindication to getting the shot, especially now that the vaccine is now longer grown in egg cultures.
Side effects, other than mild soreness around the injection site for a day or two, are rare. People sometimes say that the flu shot gave them the flu, but that has never been proven to occur. The average adult gets five non-flu viral infections a year, such as colds, so out of the millions of flu shots that are given every year some people will coincidentally come down with one of these other viral infections and blame it on the flu shot they just had.
Influenza is highly contagious, and is transmitted by the respiratory route, meaning nasal drainage and droplets expelled by coughing. The incubation period is one to four days. Typical symptoms include fever, chills, malaise (feeling really crummy), generalized aching, chest discomfort, headache, nasal stuffiness, dry cough and sore throat. Elderly patients often present with lassitude and confusion but not the other symptoms. Frequent flu complications include sinus and ear infections, bronchitis and pneumonia (viral and bacterial), with pneumonia causing most flu-related deaths. Young children taking aspirin when infected by flu and other viruses can develop Reye syndrome — which affects the liver and brain and can lead to death.
Did you know that a timely flu shot can reduce death from heart attacks and strokes? Bacterial and viral infections such as influenza can cause inflammation that can trigger rupture of arterial plaque — the cause of heart attacks and strokes. According to Bale and Doneen in their book “Beat the Heart Attack Gene,” a large study showed that up to 91,000 Americans die annually from heart attacks and strokes triggered by the flu — these are not included in the statistics noted above for flu-related deaths.
Rapid flu tests done in doctors’ offices are helpful for diagnosis, although false positives and negatives can occur. Remember that flu shots only prevent influenza A and B — not colds or stomach or intestinal flu. They are not 100 percent effective in preventing influenza, but the disease tends to be shorter and milder in people who have been immunized. So be proactive about your health, and get the flu shot if you haven’t already.
Retired physician Greg Feinsinger, M.D., is author of new book “Enjoy Optimal Health, 98 Health Tips From a Family Doctor,” available on Amazon and in local bookstores. Profits go towards an endowment to the University of Colorado School of Medicine to add prevention and nutrition to the curriculum. He is available for free consultations about heart attack prevention, diabetes reversal, nutrition, and other health issues. Call 379-5718 for an appointment. For questions about his column, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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