Friday, September 23, 2011

Key facts about seasonal flu vaccine

St. Luke’s Health Watch

By Dr. Dan Fairman

The single best way to protect against the flu is to get vaccinated each year.

There are two types of vaccines: the "flu shot" and the nasal spray flu vaccine. The flu shot is an inactivated vaccine (containing killed virus) given by injection with a needle, usually in the arm. The shot is approved for use in people older than 6 months, including both healthy people and those with chronic medical conditions. There are three different flu shots available: a  HYPERLINK "" regular flu shot approved for people ages 6 months and older, a  HYPERLINK "" high-dose flu shot approved for people 65 and older and an  HYPERLINK "" intradermal flu shot approved for people 18 to 64 years of age. These all offer good protection against the seasonal flu, though protection might not be totally effective. Regardless, there are distinct benefits to vaccination.

The  HYPERLINK "" nasal-spray flu vaccine is a vaccine made with live, weakened flu viruses given as a nasal spray (sometimes called LAIV for "live attenuated influenza vaccine"). The viruses in the nasal spray vaccine do not cause the flu. LAIV is approved for use in healthy people 2 through 49 years of age who are not pregnant.

Seasonal flu vaccines protect against the three influenza viruses that research indicates will be most common during the upcoming season. The viruses in the vaccine can change each year based on international surveillance and scientists' estimations about which types and strains of viruses will circulate in a given year. About two weeks after vaccination, antibodies that provide protection against the influenza viruses in the vaccine develop in the body.

The Influenza season in the U.S. usually peaks in January or February. However, it can occur as early as October or as late as May. The vaccine protection lasts about six months. Therefore, to cover this six-month span, it's best that vaccination should start no earlier than late September or early October. We usually don't see influenza here in the valley until November or December, so it's OK to wait until later in the season to get the vaccine.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, while everyone should get a flu vaccine each flu season, it's especially important that the following groups get vaccinated, either because they are at high risk of having serious flu-related complications or because they live with or care for people at high risk for developing flu-related complications: 

( Pregnant women.

( Children younger than 5.

( People 50 years of age and older.

( People of any age with certain chronic medical conditions.

( People who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

( People who live with or care for those at high risk for complications from flu, including health-care workers, household contacts of people at high risk for complications from the flu, household contacts and out-of-home caregivers of children less than 6 months of age (those too young to be vaccinated).

People with a "high-exposure" job, such as teachers or grocery-store checkers, should consider immunization.

There are some people who should not get a flu vaccine without first consulting a physician. Those include:

( People who have a severe allergy to chicken eggs.

( People who have had a severe reaction to an influenza vaccination.

( People who developed Guillain-Barré syndrome within six weeks of getting an influenza vaccine.

( Children younger than 6 months (influenza vaccine is not approved for this age group).

( People who have a moderate-to-severe illness with a fever (they should wait until they recover to get vaccinated).

Different side effects can be associated with the flu shot. The viruses in the shot are killed (inactivated), so you cannot get the flu from a flu shot. Some minor side effects that could occur are soreness, redness or swelling where the shot was given, low-grade fever and aches. If these problems occur, they begin soon after the shot and usually last one or two days. Significant reactions are very rare.

Influenza is a common infection with significant morbidity (fever, headache, severe muscle aches and weakness) and a definite risk of death in some patient groups. Influenza spreads easily from person to person. Though there is treatment available, prevention is by far the best treatment. Vaccination is available at all the clinics in the valley, and at most pharmacies, so please remember to get vaccinated not only for your benefit but for the benefit of your family and friends.

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