What’s New with the Flu?
By Eileen M. Censullo MBA, RRT, FAARC
Getting a flu vaccination can be the best way to protect not only yourself and your family from getting the flu, but others as well, helping to decrease the number of people who could catch the flu. The more people who get vaccinated, the more people who are protected, especially infants, pregnant women, and those with certain health conditions who could be more vulnerable to serious flu complications. Flu vaccination reduces visits to the doctor’s office and time lost at work. It also prevents flu-related hospitalizations.
Shots for all
There are some new things to know about flu vaccination this flu season. First and foremost, only injectable flu shots are recommended by the Centers for Disease Control. The nasal spray or the “live” virus is not recommended this flu season because of concerns about its effectiveness.
Flu vaccines have also been updated to better match circulating viruses. There are some new vaccinations on the market this season and the recommendations for vaccinations in people with egg allergies have changed. Some of the flu shots will protect against three viruses and some will protect against four.
Everyone six months of age and older should get a flu vaccine every year, by the end of October, if possible. But if you missed that time frame, getting vaccinated later is still okay. Vaccination continues the entire flu season, including into January. Flu season typically runs from December until March, but can last as late as May.
Everyone should always practice good hand washing to help minimize the spread of infections, especially during these months.
Misconceptions about the safety of the flu vaccine keep some people from getting the shot. You do not get the flu from the flu shot. The risk of a flu shot causing serious harm or death is extremely small. Almost all people who get the influenza vaccination have no serious problems from it. Since it is an injection, there are some side effects: soreness, redness or swelling at the injection site, low-grade fever, and aches. These usually occur soon after the shot and can last 1-2 days.
However, a flu vaccine is like any other medication, and may rarely cause serious problems, such as severe allergic reactions. Signs of serious allergic reactions can include breathing problems, hoarseness or wheezing, hives, paleness, weakness, a fast heartbeat, or dizziness. If they are going to occur, they will happen minutes after the shot. These happen to people who are allergic to something in the vaccine, such as egg protein or other ingredients. Please let your health care provider know if you have experienced any of these symptoms in the past during an injection, or if you have an allergy to egg protein.
If you have any of the reactions listed above, call a doctor or get to one right away. Tell your doctor what happened, provide the date and time it happened, and say when you received your flu shot. Ask your doctor to file a Vaccine Adverse Event Report System (VAERS) Form.
There is a small possibility that influenza vaccine could also be associated with Guillain-Barre Syndrome but no more than one or two cases per million people vaccinated are suspected. This is much lower than the risk of severe complications from the flu, which can be prevented by the vaccine.
Take common-sense measures
Aside from getting the flu vaccine, the most important things to remember when it comes to avoiding the flu or stopping its spread are to wash your hands regularly and stay home if you are not feeling well. The flu is highly contagious and even if you have had the flu vaccine, it is not 100% effective in preventing you from getting the flu if you are indeed exposed. It may keep you from getting as severe a case as you would have without the vaccine, but you may still get the flu. If you are not feeling well, get plenty of rest and fluids.Respiratory therapist Eileen Censullo is a Fellow of the American Association for Respiratory Care who serves as director of science for the American Heart Association at their national headquarters in Dallas, TX.