Flu season is rapidly approaching, and with each year, as providers, we are often faced with many of the same questions about influenza. Therefore, a little refresher for you:
The flu is a tricky virus that mutates constantly. This is why you need an annual vaccine and what makes predicting strains for the vaccine a most difficult task. Healthcare researchers use flu data from the other side of the world; as you may recall when it’s summer in Massachusetts, it’s winter in the southern hemisphere. Being that the flu virus is more stable in colder temperatures, it’s also flu season in the southern hemisphere. This information is what helps the United States select which strains to use to create the most effective vaccine.
The flu is an illness that should be taken seriously. In 1918, the H1N1 pandemic caused 50-100 MILLION worldwide deaths. In 2009, there were 395,000 reported deaths due to the flu. On average, there are 35,000 deaths in the US annually due to the virus. The vaccine, while ever-changing, is the single most effective way to protect yourself and your family from getting the flu!
Let’s address some of the common objections to getting a flu shot:
The flu shot always makes me sick!
NO! Flu vaccine particles are dead, THEY CAN’T GIVE YOU THE FLU–they are only the bare husk of the outside of the viral particle with none of the virus inside, to teach your body how to recognize influenza without facing a full-on invasion. Most people experience soreness in the area where the shot was given. Some people may have a low-grade fever, headache and muscle aches which last a day or two. The other matter to keep in mind is that many people have their shots later in the season and may be presenting with the flu that they picked up in the community.
I’m healthy! I don’t need it! I never get the flu!
It’s all about COMMUNITY IMMUNITY. Half the people who get the flu don’t have symptoms but pass it on to others– the old, the young, the sick, the pregnant–who do suffer and die. Flu shots prevent you from catching the flu without knowing it and passing it on to vulnerable friends and family.
But vaccines cause autism!
NO! There is NO EVIDENCE that vaccines cause autism.
That worry was based on a single study in a major medical journal that they discovered the scientist FAKED THE DATA! He took back his data, and the medical journal apologized for publishing an article based on bad science that freaked out the world. But some people still repeat these false claims.
But I’m scared of needles!
Take a deep breath. You’ve got this. We can stay with you and hold your hand while you’re being a good person and protecting yourself and friends and family from flu by getting this shot.
Anyone 6 months and over is strongly encouraged to get a flu shot. It’s best to get the vaccine before the end of October; it takes 2-3 weeks to develop antibodies and offer protection. To learn more about the 2018-2019 flu season, visit harringtonhospital.org/flu.
Gennady Gelman, MD, is a board-certified Family Medicine Physician and the Director of Medical Informatics for Harrington Physician Services. His practice is located at 128 Main Street, Suite 4 in Sturbridge.