By Margaret Hennessy, MD, pediatrician with Wheaton Franciscan Medical Group in Racine.
The flu shot has been mystified over the years as something so special and so difficult to handle that many Americans just refuse to get it every year. The flu shot – which prevents influenza – is not any different than any other shot that you may get. The side effects are the same as any other shot.
Here are some other things that you need to know about influenza (aka the flu) and the vaccination that prevents it:
- Influenza is a bad disease. For some, it may be a bad cold, but for others the flu is just plain deadly. In fact, over 36,000 Americans die every year because of influenza. That is more than almost any other disease that we can prevent with vaccine. In addition, over 200,000 people are hospitalized with flu every year and a large portion of those patients are babies.
- Flu is not vomiting and diarrhea. Many people think of the “flu” as a stomach virus, but actually that is not really true. The flu is mostly a respiratory illness that causes cough, headaches, scratchy throat, fevers and chills, muscle aches, and malaise (an overall feeling of yuckiness). Sometimes young children also have vomiting and diarrhea with all of this but not instead of all this. Flu can also lead to sepsis (infection in the blood) and pneumonia.
- You cannot get the flu from the flu shot. The flu shot is no different than any other vaccine out there. There is no chance for you to get influenza from the shot. No one seems to worry about getting “tetanus disease” from a tetanus shot, so why would you think that flu vaccine can get you sick?
There was a study in the Twin Cities a few years ago about side effects of the flu shot. They took over 400 healthy, working adults and gave them a flu shot. Then, they took another 400 healthy, working adults and gave them a placebo (i.e. no medicine in it) shot and called both groups back to check on side effects. The rates of fever, muscle aches, malaise and sick days after the flu vaccine were the same in both groups. Moderate pain at the injection site was also the same. The only thing that was more significant in the flu shot group compared with the placebo group was “severe pain." This was seen in 3.4% of flu shot recipients vs. 1% of placebo shot recipients.
- You can actually be sick with influenza and make others sick and not even know it. Healthy adults tend to do better if they contract the flu virus. However, when you get the flu, you are contagious with influenza 1-2 days before you even feel sick or show signs of sickness. So, you could be spreading the illness before you even know that you have it. You may have mild symptoms and not realize that you are suffering from influenza and spread it to young children, elderly persons, pregnant women and persons who have serious chronic illnesses. These are among those with the highest risk of developing complications from the flu and may not develop enough protection from their own flu shot. So, they rely on healthy people to protect them.
Bottom line: Getting a flu shot is the right thing to do. We all have plenty of flu vaccine. There is no reason to wait. And if you don’t have insurance, you can visit the health departments or one of our community flu clinics to get your flu shot, too.
Wheaton Franciscan Home Health is offering community flu shot clinics througout Milwaukee, Waukesha and Racine counties through the end of October.Find one near you.
Learn more about the flu by visiting our website.