Doctor’s Tip: The many benefits of getting a flu shot
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that everyone older than 6 months get a flu shot by the end of October. Babies younger than 6 months should not receive flu shots, so it’s particularly important that these children’s caregivers are immunized.
Children 6 months and older need two flu shots four weeks apart. During the 2016-17 flu season, 77 children died from the ailment and probably would not have had they received flu shots.
Adults need just one shot, and people 65 and older need an extra-strength shot.
The 1918 Spanish flu epidemic resulted in 675,000 American deaths. About 48,000 deaths occurred during the 2003-04 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. The most severe forms are influenza A and B, with C being a milder disease. In temperate climates such as ours, the flu viruses are usually active during the colder, late fall, winter and early spring months. It takes several days for the shots to kick in, so if you haven’t received your shot yet you should ASAP. Flu shots can be obtained in most doctors’ offices, in pharmacies, and at Garfield County Public Health offices.
Due to changes in the genetic makeup of the flu viruses from year to year, called “genetic drift,” the makeup of the flu vaccine changes each year. Allergy to egg is not a contraindication to getting the shot, although if you have an egg allergy you should mention it to whomever is vaccinating you.
Side effects other than mild soreness for a day or two where the shot was given 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 discharge and coughing. The incubation period is 1-4 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 usually being the cause of flu-related deaths. Young children taking aspirin 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 cardiovascular mortality (heart attacks and stroke) by 50 percent? 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, and these are not included in the statistics noted above for flu-related deaths.
Rapid flu tests done in doctors’ offices are helpful in diagnosis, although false positives and negatives can occur. Remember that flu shots only prevent influenza A and B, but 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.
Dr. Feinsinger, who retired from Glenwood Medical Associates after 42 years as a family physician, now has a nonprofit Center For Prevention and Treatment of Disease Through Nutrition. He is available for free consultations about heart attack prevention and any other medical concerns. Call 970-379-5718 for an appointment. For questions about his columns, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.