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Debunking Myths Whether to Get Your Flu Shot

According to the CDC, in the United States each year influenza has resulted in between 9.2 million and 35.6 million illnesses, between 140,000 and 710,000 hospitalizations and between 12,000 and 56,000 deaths annually since 2010.

Getting an annual flu vaccine is the first and best way to protect yourself and your family from the flu. Flu vaccination can reduce flu illnesses, doctors’ visits, and missed work and school due to flu, as well as prevent flu-related hospitalizations. Increasing the number of people who get vaccinated each year helps to protect more people, including older people, very young children, pregnant women and people with certain health conditions who are more vulnerable to serious flu complications.

In this important segment, Anna Robb explains why it is vital to the public health and safety to get your annual flu shot and how it can help protect you and the ones you love.
Debunking Myths Whether to Get Your Flu Shot
Featured Speaker:
Anna Robb, RN
Anna Robb, RN, BSN is a Stoughton Hospital registered Nurse.

Melanie Cole (Host): Each year on average, 5 to 20% of the United States’ population gets the flu. Tens of thousands are hospitalized, and thousands die of flu-related illness. This can cost an estimated $10 billion a year in direct medical expenses. Getting an annual flu vaccine is the first and best way to protect yourself and your family from the flu. My guest today, is Anna Robb. She’s a Registered Nurse at Stoughton Hospital. Welcome to the show, Anna. Let’s start with a definition of the flu because people hear stomach flu, which is gastroenteritis and has nothing to do with influenza. Explain a little bit about the difference. Let’s just clear that up at the beginning.

Anna Robb (Guest): Absolutely, thanks so much for having me, today. The flu or influenza when we talk about it in the sense of flu season refers to a contagious respiratory disease. It’s a disease primarily of the respiratory system. Symptoms often are fever, cough, sore throat, headache, and then on rare occasion and more commonly with children, we do see some nausea and vomiting at times, but it’s not to be confused with what people often refer to as the stomach flu, which is a gastrointestinal illness. Or, what we sometimes see around the same time of year would be our respiratory colds, which are much more mild illnesses, which don’t have the same implications or complications as influenza.

Melanie: So, influenza is pretty nasty. If you’ve ever gotten the flu you know how nasty it can be, so let’s bust of a few myths first. People say that they don’t’ want to get the flu vaccine because it’s made them sick or it can give them the flu – and we do have the live attenuated – we have two kinds, so explain a little bit about that myth.

Anna: Yeah, absolutely. The flu shot or the injection with the flu vaccine does not contain any live virus, so it cannot give people influenza. It doesn’t have the virus in it. That being said, some people do experience some symptoms after getting a flu shot, which would include a sore muscle where that injection is given, but also can have some low-grade fevers and just some achiness. Those symptoms usually don’t last more than a day or two, and that’s related to the body’s response or building antibodies, but not actually an illness from that.

There is the live-attenuated vaccine that was a nasal mist, but that, for last flu season and this flu season, aren’t recommended to be administered by the CDC because of their questionable effectiveness, so you likely won’t see any of the flu mist or flu nasal spray this flu season.

Melanie: Another myth that people hear or see is they say that the flu vaccine doesn’t work anyway and you can still get the flu or it’s a different flu this season, so the vaccine doesn’t keep up with that. Explain a little bit about the CDC and how they really change these vaccines year to year as they predict what the flu season is going to be like.

Anna: Yeah, absolutely. The flu does have the – the virus has the ability to mutate, so we see different versions of the virus from year to year, and that’s why they’re making decisions based on what they’re seeing for what the best viruses to vaccinate are for each flu season. That being said, there are times that they don’t necessarily hit that exactly on or that the virus mutates enough that there is some flu does break through. Even when they have a really good year when they have a really good match between the viruses that are circulating and what is given in the flu shot, we still see people that have the flu. We’re not going to have, and we don’t see 100% of people that get the flu shot developing immunity to the influenza viruses that are circulating.

That brings up an important point that the majority of a population become vaccinated because we don’t see that 100% of people that get the flu shot are going to have immunity, so some people that are immunocompromised or young children that are more susceptible to the dangers of influenza and the poor health outcomes may not develop immunity, but we can do our part as healthy members of the community to get the flu shot just to lower the amount of spreading virus in the community.

Melanie: Tell us, who should get flu shots?

Anna: Basically, the CDC recommends everyone over the age of six months get vaccinated with the flu shot. There are very few exceptions to that, one being that they just recommend that people that aren’t feeling well or maybe have cold or other symptoms don’t get the flu shot and that’s just related to their ability to build immunity to the flu shot at that time. The other two categories of people they recommend speak to their doctor are people that have maybe severe or life-threatening allergies to the flu vaccine or a history of Guillain-Barre Syndrome. There are very few people that fall into those categories that they recommend do not get the flu shot.

Melanie: When is flu season, Anna?

Anna: Mainly, it’s thought of between October and April, but there are certainly times when the flu comes earlier and stays later. They recommend that people are vaccinated before the end of October, but people can and should continue to get vaccinated as long as the flu virus is circulating. It does take – once its flu vaccine has been administered – approximately two weeks for the body to build immunity. It’s important to get the flu shot early if you can so that immunity is felt before flu starts circulating in the community.

Melanie: And where can people get their flu shots?

Anna: A lot of local pharmacies will administer flu shots, so that’s one place if someone is not connected to a certain healthcare system. A lot of just local pharmacies will administer them, but otherwise, going through your primary care doctor is a good option. A lot of places offer flu clinics, and Stoughton Hospital will be having some flu clinics this season that will be able to be found on our hospital website. There are plenty of places in the community and insurances most often cover flu shots. If they do not, they are usually pretty reasonably priced.

Melanie: If somebody gets vaccinated, can they still get the flu? You mentioned that there is a two-week window there, so what do you want them to know about this possibility.

Anna: Yeah, absolutely. Like I had said earlier, even people that are vaccinated do have the possibility of getting the flu. The chances are a lot lower if you are vaccinated – of getting the flu -- but some people still will. There is evidence that even people that get the flu shot if they do get the flu, they tend to get the much milder illness, and often have less complications or need for hospitalization. That’s another good reason to get vaccinated.

As far as people that do end up getting influenza, the biggest thing is they recommend that people stay home and avoid contact with other people. Going to work with influenza only promotes the spread of it, so staying home – and the recommendation is that you stay home for at least 24 hours after the fever is gone without the use of Tylenol, ibuprofen, or other fever-reducing meds.

And then, certainly, if anyone is concerned about severe complications of flu – so people that are – children that are experiencing shortness of breath, or lethargy, signs of respiratory compromise, or dehydration, those are people that should either contact their primary care physician, of if those symptoms are more severe may need emergency medical care. There are some antiviral drugs that are available, and there’s varying research on that, but those are most helpful when they are started early in the course of flu. For people that get influenza that maybe have a history of lung disease or are very young or very old, would be recommended that they act promptly so that they can get that medication if they’re recommended.

Melanie: Let’s wrap it up with some very strong words about the importance of getting your flu vaccine every year -- this isn’t just a one-time deal. You’ve got to get it every year -- and who you want to get it, and why it is so important that they and their loved ones – their children, their older relatives – get vaccinated for the flu and how Stoughton Hospital can help that?

Anna: Yeah, so again, everyone over the age of six-months is recommended to get the flu vaccine. The big reasons for that are obviously to protect yourself, reduce your risk of getting influenza, being hospitalized from influenza. The other big thing is for protection of others. The more people we have vaccinated, the less likely we are to have influenza circulating in the community. Young children and infants are at very high risk for complications from influenza -- and like I said, if they’re less than six-months, they can’t get vaccinated -- as well as people that are senior citizens in the community that have more likely complications. Really, getting the influenza vaccine is to protect yourself, but it’s really a selfless act as well to make sure that we are lowering the amount of circulating virus and therefore, protecting the vulnerable populations, which again, are the infants, senior citizens, people with multiple health risks, and especially also pregnant women who are at high risk. We’re really doing it even if you’re not worried about yourself getting the flu; it really is a good thing for the community.

And again, Stoughton Hospital has multiple flu clinics through the flu season. Those will be available on the website, and those vaccinations are already available at a lot of places. If you are going through your primary care doctor or a pharmacy in town, it’s likely that they already do have vaccination available.

Melanie: Thank you so much, Anna, for being with us today. It’s really important information for the listeners to hear. Get your flu vaccine this year. You can go to Stoughton Hospital to find out where the flu vaccine clinics are for this flu season. You’re listening to Stoughton Hospital Health Talk. This is Melanie Cole. Thanks so much, for listening.