Media Contact: Keith.O’Connor@baystatehealth.org, 413-794-7656
SPRINGFIELD – When it comes to this year’s flu season, which has already arrived with cases now being seen in the community, which of the following is true?
“I don’t need a flu shot this year, I had one last year.”
“Since there really hasn’t been a big swine flu epidemic lately, I don’t need to get vaccinated for it anymore.”
“Every time I get a flu shot, I feel sick afterwards, almost like I have the flu.”
The answer is that they are all false.
“Protection lasts for about a year, so you need to be vaccinated every year to raise your immune levels against the flu strains that are circulating in a given year,” said Dr. Sarah Haessler from the Infectious Disease Division at Baystate Medical Center.
“Once again this year, swine flu protection is included in your regular influenza vaccine, so only one shot is required,” she added.
Even though cases of the flu have already been reported in the community, the season runs for several more months and there is still time to get your vaccination – just remember that it takes two weeks for it to become effective.
Seasonal flu vaccine is highly recommended if you want to avoid the flu, and it is especially important for people who are at risk for complications – young children, pregnant women, people 50 years or older, people with diabetes, and heart, lung and kidney disease, and those who live in nursing homes.
Similar to last year, the CDC is recommending that everyone be vaccinated – including those six months and older, unless you are allergic to eggs or your doctor recommends against it because of certain pre-existing conditions. Also, the CDC says that babies and children ages six months to eight years old will require two shots if it is their first time getting a flu vaccine. However, only one shot is needed if they were vaccinated last year.
The Baystate Health infectious disease specialist dispelled the fallacy that you can get sick from the flu shot.
“The flu shot is made from inactivated (dead) virus that cannot give you the flu. There are a lot of colds and viruses around at this time of year, and some people may catch them shortly afterwards and erroneously attribute their illness to the vaccine. And, the flu shot is safe,” said Dr. Haessler.
“Some may experience soreness, redness or swelling where the shot was given, as well as fever, headache, itching and fatigue. But, most people have no adverse reactions to the flu shot, and life-threatening allergic reactions from vaccines are quite rare,” she added.
The Baystate infectious disease specialist, noted, however, that you should call your doctor or visit the Emergency Department for any unusual conditions following the flu shot such as a high fever, behavioral changes, or signs of a severe allergic reaction, such as difficulty breathing, rapid heartbeat or dizziness.
While the flu vaccine is still the single best way to prevent the flu, protection is never 100 percent and some people can get the flu even after being vaccinated.
“The efficacy of the flu vaccine varies from year to year depending upon how well matched the influenza viruses in the vaccine are to those actually circulating in the community,” said Dr. Haessler.
Symptoms of seasonal influenza virus include fever, headache, extreme tiredness, dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle aches, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
“What differentiates the flu from the common cold is that these symptoms usually come on very quickly and are much more severe,” said Dr. Haessler.
Although there is no cure for the flu, just as with the common cold, there are treatments to lessen the symptoms.
“Antiviral drugs can make your flu symptoms milder and help you feel better quicker, but you need to get to your doctor immediately when you suspect you have the flu,” said Dr. Haessler.
So, what’s your excuse for not getting a flu shot this year?
If you have a fear of needles, don’t use that reason to avoid getting a flu shot. According to Dr. Haessler, there is a nasal-spray flu vaccine available for use in most healthy people, ages 2 to 49, who are not pregnant. She said persons with any long-term health problems should check with their physician to be sure it is safe to opt for the nasal spray.
Cost should also not be a deterrent in getting a flu shot, noted Dr. Haessler. The cost of a flu shot can range upward to $30. However, most insurance companies cover the cost or have a co-pay that can range up to $15. Seniors on Medicare are covered for a flu shot, while Medicaid and CHIP cover influenza vaccine for children who are beneficiaries. For children without health insurance or families who cannot afford the cost of a flu vaccine, there is a federally-funded program called Vaccines for Children (VFC) that provides no-cost vaccines to children under 18 through VFC-enrolled doctors. Veterans enrolled in VA health care are also eligible for free flu shots. There are also periodic free clinics advertised in local newspapers and competitive pricing among some
pharmacies, supermarkets and other retailers.
For more information on Baystate Medical Center, visit baystatehealth.org/bmc.