Flu season is upon us. Influenza is a very contagious
respiratory illness that causes fever, body aches, severe fatigue, sore throat,
runny nose and dry cough. Complications such as pneumonia, sinus infections and
worsening of chronic medical conditions can occur.
The elderly and the very young are most at risk of
complications from influenza. In fact, 36,000 people die in the United States every
year from influenza.
However, influenza is preventable. Yet less than 40 percent of
the U.S. population was vaccinated last year. Why?
One problem is that there is a lot of misinformation about
the flu shot and who should get it.
Anyone who wants to prevent getting sick should get the flu
shot and it is available to everyone who wants it.
The people most at risk are those over the age of 50, and
anyone of any age who has certain chronic medical conditions. Pregnant woman
and women planning on being pregnant during flu season should also be
The recommendations have recently expanded to include all
children aged 6 months of age to 19 years old. People who work or live with
those at high risk should also be vaccinated.
So, if you are 22 years old but are around your elderly
grandmother or small children, it is important to get vaccinated as to not get
Patients often say that they do not need to get the flu shot
because they never get sick. This logic is analogous to not wearing a seatbelt
because you have never been in a car accident.
For the elderly or those with a chronic medical condition,
it only takes one severe influenza infection for a prolonged hospital stay or
For young, normally healthy people, getting the flu can
result in many days of missed work and income.
The most common myth out there is, “The flu shot makes you
sick.” This is actually impossible. The virus in the flu shot is killed
(inactivated) and actually cannot make you sick. The most common side effect of
the flu shot is soreness at the injection site, and sometimes a mild ache or
fever. These symptoms last only one-two days.
Flu shots are given during a time of the year when colds and
upper respiratory infections are very common. Therefore, it is not uncommon for
someone to get a cold close to the time he/she received a flu shot. The flu
shot also takes two weeks to take effect so it is possible to get the flu in
this two week time frame.
Another very common statement is, “I hear those flu shots
don’t really work.” It is true that in some years the vaccine has not been as
effective as in others. However, even in years when the match between the
vaccine and the circulating virus strains is not great, the vaccine still
prevents influenza in a large percentage of vaccinated adults and does an
excellent job at preventing hospitalizations and death.
You can get a flu shot at your doctor’s office, or at numerous
locations throughout Denver and the metro area. To find out about upcoming
opportunities to get a flu shot at Denver Health, call 303-436-6100.