HEALTH: The Flu Shot: Yay or Nay?

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By Dr. Lydia Thurton
January 29th, 2014 Edition

One of the most common questions I get from my patients this time of year is “Do you think I should get the flu shot?” For parents, this question extends also to their children, a group that can be vulnerable to influenza related complications. Adults over the age of 65 are also at greater risk of pneumonia, bronchitis and hospitalization, if they contract flu. Keeping this in mind, the vast majority of flu sufferers will get over the virus in three days, with appropriate rest. Admittedly, it will be a terrible three days and you probably will not feel quite yourself for a week or more. My answer is typically along the lines of “Here is the information I have researched on the vaccine. It is ultimately your decision.”

Toronto Public Health recommends that virtually everyone over the age of 6 months should get the flu shot every year. You need a shot every year because the flu virus has a nasty habit of mutating, changing its structure, to evade your immune system. Influenza researchers have the tricky job of trying to predict what strains of influenza are going to predominate and then they make a vaccine based on those strains, for example, H1N1.

The vaccine works approximately 60% of the time. It has been shown in some studies to lessen the severity of the symptoms as well. So, getting the flu shot does not guarantee that you will not get the flu this season. Also good to keep in mind, is that the shot takes two to three weeks to become effective in the body. Catching the flu after getting a vaccine does not mean the shot made you sick. You unfortunately caught influenza before the vaccine could start to work.

There are seven different types of flu vaccine, made by different manufacturers available in Canada. The flu vaccine is egg based, so if you have an allergy to eggs, depending on how severe it is, the shot might not be advisable for you.

The seven vaccines do contain formaldehyde, and some other hard to pronounce chemicals like, Cetyltrimethyl-ammonium bromide and Triton X-100. While these chemicals are not typically something we would consume, they are assumed to be present in such small quantities as to be of negligible effect. Adverse vaccine reactions do occur and can be serious; however, they only happen extremely rarely.

If you choose to get the vaccine, get it when you are feeling healthy. Do not go if you think you are already getting sick. If you do get the flu, please just stay home. This is especially true if you work with children or the elderly, or take public transit. Although, quite frankly, it really does not matter where you work. Spreading the flu to your co-workers is never a nice thing to do. The best way to speed the recovery of the flu is to rest your body and allow your immune system to go to work. Next issue, I will discuss how to nurse yourself back to health if you contract influenza this winter.

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