Do you need a flu shot?

October 24, 1997

Do you need a flu shot?


Staff Writer

The balmy autumn may have lulled you into believing that winter never will come, but the first frost has hit, and flu season is on its way.

Colder weather may be inevitable, but coming down with the flu is not. Safe and effective preventive vaccines are available. Area health agencies are offering free or inexpensive flu shots, and flu and pneumoccal vaccines are covered by Medicare. Of course, vaccinations also are available from primary care physicians.

What is the flu?

Influenza is a contagious disease caused by a virus. It strikes both children and adults and is spread by coughs or sneezes. It causes fever, chills, weakness, headache and loss of appetite, according to information provided by Cumberland Valley Immunization Coalition in Franklin County, Pa.


The flu can be inconvenient - and not just because it keeps you from working or having fun. At times last fall and winter, the patient population at Washington County Hospital was so high that some elective surgery was postponed, says Beth Kirkpatrick, hospital spokesperson.

Influenza can be dangerous. As many as 20,000 Americans die each year from flu-related illnesses, the National Coalition for Adult Immunization reports.

When should you get a shot?

Influenza is most common in the U.S. from December through April. Protection from the vaccine begins after one to two weeks and lasts up to a year. It is best to get vaccinated between September and mid-November.

Who should get a flu shot?

People who are at risk for getting a serious case of influenza or a complication should be vaccinated, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. These include:

* All people 65 years of age and older

* Residents of long-term health facilities housing chronically ill people.

* Those with serious long-term health problems including heart, lung or kidney disease, anemia, asthma or metabolic diseases such as diabetes

* People who are less able to fight infections because of a disease they were born with, HIV infection, treatment with drugs such as long-term steroids, or cancer treatment with X-rays or drugs

* Children and teenagers on long-term aspirin treatment, who could develop Reye's syndrome if they catch the flu

* Women who will be in the second or third trimester of their pregnancy during flu season.

* Health-care workers and caretakers of the elderly

* People who provide community services and people in schools or colleges

Excuses, excuses, excuses

Some people don't get vaccinated because they just don't like injections, says Linda Humbert, director of nursing for Washington County Health Department.

Some say they never get sick. Humbert's answer to them is that having a flu shot will protect family members, friends or co-workers who may be at higher risk.

Others believe they will get sick anyway, Humbert says. The flu vaccine does not protect against other viral infections, so people may have flu-like diseases. Because viruses change often, they may not always be covered by the vaccine. But people who do get the flu after getting the vaccine often have a milder case, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

What are the risks from influenza vaccine?

You can't get the flu from a flu shot. The viruses in the vaccine have been killed.

If mild or moderate problems result from a flu shot - fever, aches, soreness, redness or swelling where the shot was given - they usually start soon after the vaccination and can last one to two days.

Before getting a flu shot, you should tell your doctor or nurse if you have a serious allergy to eggs, if you ever had a serious allergic reaction or other problem after getting a flu vaccination, were ever paralyzed by Guillain-Barre Syndrome or have a moderate or severe illness.

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