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Misconceptions and facts about the flu shot

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Getting a flu vaccine each year is one way of protecting yourself and your loved ones against the influenza virus. Influenza is a contagious respiratory illness caused by a virus and may lead to serious illness, hospitalization, or even death. Because it is a viral illness, the Flu is not responsive to antibiotic therapy. The CDC (Center for Disease Control) recommends everyone between six months of age and older get an annual flu shot. The flu vaccine has been shown to reduce flu illnesses, hospitalization, and even death in children.

During the 2016–2017 season, vaccination against the flu prevented an estimated 5.3 million illnesses, 2.6 million medical visits, and 85,000 influenza-associated hospitalizations. Even more deaths and serious hospitalizations were bypassed in the 2017-2018 season as well. The Flu vaccination also is an essential preventive tool for people with chronic health conditions such as Diabetes, Asthma, COPD just to name a few. The CDC also recommends administering the flu vaccine to pregnant women to help protect them and their unborn child from illness and hospitalization secondary to the flu. The Flu shot has been shown to protect the baby from flu infection for several months after birth, before the baby can be vaccinated at six months. A recent study by Thompson et al., showed that getting a flu shot reduced a pregnant woman’s risk of being hospitalized with flu by an average of 40 percent.

In a 2017 study conducted by Flannery et al., they concluded that getting a flu shot was associated with a reduced risk of laboratory-confirmed pediatric death caused by the flu virus. While some people who get vaccinated still get sick, if they received a flu shot before their illness, several studies have shown that their symptoms and the severity of illness were greatly reduced. A new study in the Journal of Clinical Infectious Diseases (CID) showed that flu vaccination reduced deaths, intensive care unit (ICU) admissions, ICU length of stay, and overall duration of hospitalization among hospitalized flu patients. This study is an essential first step in better understanding whether flu vaccines can reduce severe flu outcomes even if they fail to provide one hundred percent protection against infection.

The study also looked at hospitalized patients during 2013-2014 with a valid positive flu test and compared patients who had received the vaccine to those who had not. The observed benefits were most significant among people 65 years of age and older, who are at higher risk of severe complications from the flu and have the highest hospitalization rate among all age groups. The findings of the study concluded that an unvaccinated hospitalized patient over 65 years old was 2 to 5 times more likely to die from respiratory complications than someone who had been vaccinated received the flu shot.

The composition of the flu vaccine changes every year, so flu vaccines may be updated from one season to the next to protect against the viruses that research shows will be more common during the upcoming flu season. Flu vaccines have an excellent safety record. Hundreds of millions of people have safely received the flu vaccine over the past five decades. Extensive research from the CDC and other organizations supports the safety of the seasonal flu shot. Each year, CDC works with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other partners to ensure the highest safety standards for flu vaccines. More information about the safety of the flu shot can be found on the CDC website at www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/vaccine/vaccinesafety.htm.

The flu shot is made using killed flu viruses, or without flu virus at all. It is therefore not possible to get the flu from an inactivated flu shot. Some minor side effects that may occur: include soreness, redness and swelling at the site where the shot is given, lowgrade fever, and minor muscle aches. The flu season usually runs from the end of September to March the following year.

Keisha Ellis is a certified family nurse practitioner for Eastern New Mexico Medical Group’s Quick Care. The advice offered in this column is that of the author.