Wednesday December 12, 2012

Suggested Pull-quote: The flu vaccine is the best way to prevent the flu.

Each year, more than 10,000 people die from the flu. In bad years that number can approach 40,000. The flu vaccine is the best way to prevent the flu. And it is not too late to get vaccinated. In our area, we usually see the flu through winter and into early April. The 2012-2013 vaccine protects against three flu viruses that are predicted to be the most common during this year's season, which is predicted to be more severe than in recent years.

The flu is particularly dangerous for people over age 65, infants, and very young children, and anyone with a chronic disease or suppressed immune system. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that these people get a flu vaccine. The CDC also recommends the vaccine for:

·Pregnant women, as they are likely to develop a severe infection.

·Health care workers, to protect their patients and of course themselves.

·Anyone who lives or works with people at high risk of complications from the flu (including children less than six months as there is no vaccine for this age group).

Frankly, the vaccine helps to keep anyone from spending a miserable week in bed with the flu. We have safe effective vaccines for every age group, now. So, there's no reason for anyone who wants to be vaccinated not to get it.

There are several types of vaccine; the standard shot, a nasal spray, an intradermal shot, and a high dose shot. The standard injectable type takes a few weeks to be fully effective. However, just about anyone, except those with egg allergies can get it. The nasal spray is faster acting. It gives full immunity in only a few days. But it can only be used in for those from two years to 49 years, except pregnant women, who don't have certain existing illnesses. The intradermal vaccine can be used in adults 18 through 64 years of age. It is a shot that is injected into the skin instead of the muscle, and uses a much smaller needle than those used for regular flu shots. The high dose inactivated flu vaccine is available for people 65 years of age and older, who are at higher risk for complications from the flu. Check with your doctor to see if this vaccine is appropriate for you.

Every year, we hear someone say that the vaccine gave them the flu. It is not possible to get flu from the injectable vaccine, because it is an attenuated or killed virus. It is really just bad timing. Frequently people think they have the flu when they really have a common cold. However, it is also possible that the person was exposed to the flu before the vaccine made them immune.

Some people who receive the FluMist vaccine will experience a decreased appetite, muscle aches, a headache, chills, a sore throat, and fatigue and stomach pain. This reaction is due to the fact that the vaccine is made with inactivated live virus. This is also why it gives people immunity so quickly. Some people who receive the nasal flu vaccine will experience a stuffy or runny nose as a side effect.

So remember the vaccine does not give you the flu. It does protect you from a serious illness and complications such as pneumonia.

Wilma Salkin, RN, BSN, CIC and Donna Barron, RN, BA, IP, work in the infection prevention department at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center. To learn more about how SVMC and Dartmouth-Hitchcock are working together for a healthier community, visit www.svhealthcare.org. "Health Matters" is a weekly column meant to educate readers about their personal health, public matters and public policy as it affects health care