Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Flu shots for winter

Should I get the flu shot or not?  This is a question that MANY people ask themselves every year.  As the winter marches on in Vermont, you may find yourself asking this very question.  We are here to provide information to help you make a decision if the flu shot is right for you.

The flu is a highly-contagious respiratory illness that is caused by the flu virus.  The flu virus infects the respiratory track, and results in symptoms ranging from mild to severe.  The symptoms can include: fever, chills, cough, sore throat, nasal congestion, headaches, muscle or body aches, fatigue, extreme tiredness (rarely people have nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea). For most people, the flu is self-limiting (the body will fight it on it's own) and people will recover fully without significant complications.  However, there are special populations that may have severe illness with complications from the flu virus, including hospitalization and possible death.  These "at risk" populations typically include: older adults and elderly, infants and young children, pregnant women, and people with ongoing health issues such as diabetes, cancer, heart failure, or asthma.

The very best way to prevent the flu is by getting a flu shot in the fall.  The flu shot we offer at Champlain OB/GYN is an inactivated trivalent (three viruses) vaccine.  Medical researchers make a prediction (based on data from last year, the flu season in the southern hemisphere, and medical models) to determine which three virus strains to put in the flu vaccine, which will hopefully protect us the best.  The flu vaccine is recommended for all people over 6 months of age - it is the best way to protect yourself, your family and friends, and your community from the flu.  The more people get vaccinated, the better our community is protected.  There is something called "herd immunity" which is that if most people get vaccinated, the virus does not have enough hosts to survive in and rates of illness are reduced.
Hospitalization rates by age

- Pregnant women:
All pregnant women who will be pregnant during the flu season (October through April) will be offered the flu shot.  Pregnancy represents a very high-risk time - pregnant women are more likely to have a complication, including respiratory compromise that may result in difficulty breathing.  It is important to protect yourself when you are pregnant from the flu, and the best way to do so is by getting a flu shot.

There are a lot of misconceptions about the flu out there.  Just to clear up come common rumors...
- You can NOT get the flu from the flu vaccine.  The vaccine that is given is a DEAD virus, and you cannot get sick from a dead virus.
- You can get the vaccine even if you don't like eggs, or vomit when you eat eggs.  Only those people who have an anaphylactic reaction to eggs should not get the vaccine (if you've ever eaten a cookie, then you don't have an allergy to eggs).
- The flu-vaccine does not cause autism or any other developmental delays.  There have been many research studies done that show there is no correlation between vaccines and autism.

You can check the Vermont Surveillance website to see if there is any flu activity in the state, which it is updated continuously as the flu is diagnosed and reported.