Breaking Down the Flu Vaccine Myth

By: KBTX Staff Email
By: KBTX Staff Email

Here's a link to the U.S. Government's list of who should get a flu vaccination, what type, and when.

Is it true that fewer people are getting Flu Shots and Why?

People were warned last season about a new flu, H1N1. As a consequence the most folks ever were immunized. When the pandemic did not infect as many people as officials were concerned about, the public looks at it as a false alarm.

The fact is, flu immunizations protected the public. The H1N1 pandemic prompted 21% more Texans to get their flu shots last fall.

Here are some of the most common questions people have about influenza and the flu vaccine:

#1 What is the Flu?
The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death.

#2 How Does Flu Spread?
Flu viruses spread mainly by droplets made when those folks with flu cough, sneeze or talk. Droplets can land in our mouths or noses. Less often, we might get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching our own mouth, eyes or nose.

<#3 What Are Periods of Contagiousness (When Can We Get It)?
You may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick. Most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 5-7 days after becoming sick. Some people, especially children and people with weakened immune systems, might be able to infect others for an even longer time.

#4 What is the best way to prevent the Flu?
The best way to prevent the flu is by getting a flu vaccine each year.

#4 A Should we be worried that the Flu shot contains dead H1N1 antibody?
No. The virus is dead and cannot harm you. The 2010-2011 vaccine will protect against three different flu viruses: an H3N2 virus, an influenza B virus and the H1N1 virus that caused so much illness last season.

#5 Who Should Get Vaccinated?
On February 24, vaccine experts voted that everyone 6 months and older should get a flu vaccine each year starting with the 2010-2011 influenza season. The CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted for "universal" flu vaccination in the U.S. to expand protection against the flu to more people.

While everyone should get a flu vaccine each flu season, it’s especially important that certain people get vaccinated either because they are at high risk of having serious flu-related complications or because they live with or care for people at high risk for developing flu-related complications.

High risk include. 
-Children between 6 months and 18 years old.
-Children on long-term aspirin therapy, who are at higher risk of Reye's syndrome after getting the flu.
-Women who will be pregnant during flu season.
-Adults 50 years or older.
-Adults and children with diseases of the lungs (like asthma), heart, kidneys, liver, blood, or metabolism (like diabetes).
-Adults and children with immune systems suppressed by illness or its treatment.
-People who live in nursing homes or care facilities.
-People who live with a person at high risk of flu complications
-Caregivers of children under 6 months
-Health care workers

Anyone who wants to get the flu vaccine should be able to do so, but if you have a health concern or medical condition, talk to your doctor first.

#5 When Should We Get Vaccinated?
Yearly flu vaccination should begin in September, or as soon as vaccine is available, and continue throughout the flu season which can last as late as May. This is because the timing and duration of flu seasons vary. While flu season can begin early as October, most of the time seasonal flu activity peaks in January or later.

#6 Who can get a Nasal Spray seasonal Flu Vaccine Instead of Shot?
Vaccination with the nasal-spray flu vaccine is an option for healthy people 2-49 years of age who are not pregnant. Even people who live with or care for those in a high risk group (including health care workers) can get the nasal-spray flu vaccine as long as they are healthy themselves and are not pregnant.

The one exception is health care workers who care for people with severely weakened immune systems who require a protected hospital environment; these people should get the unactivated flu vaccine (flu shot).

#7 Flu Shot or Nasal Spray?
For decades we only had one type of flu vaccine, but these days we have a choice: the traditional flu shot or the newer nasal spray flu vaccine, FluMist.  Either vaccine will help protect against the flu virus, but some people are better suited for the flu shot, while others will do better with the nasal spray. They offer about the same level of protection against the flu.

#8 What’s the Difference Between the Flu Vaccines?
Both flu vaccines protect against various strains of the flu. The most significant differences are in how the vaccines are given and who is eligible to get them.

The Flu Shot
This vaccine is given by injection, usually into the upper arm. The flu shot is made from dead influenza virus and cannot give you the flu.  

Side effects: Usually very minor. The most frequent side effect of the flu shot is soreness in the arm; less common symptoms are mild fever and feeling achy. They may last one to two days.

The flu shot can be used in:
Adults and children from age 6 months and up.

The flu shot should not be used in:
-Anyone with a history of a severe allergic reaction to eggs or a previous flu vaccine.
-Anyone who developed Guillain-Barré syndrome within six weeks of getting a flu vaccine previously.
-Children less than 6 months old.
-People who have a an illness with fever should delay getting the flu shot until their symptoms lessen. 

Pros: The flu shot has fewer potential side effects and is considered safe for a larger age group than the nasal vaccine.

Cons: The flu shot requires injection with a needle, which makes it a tough sell for many children.

The Nasal Flu Vaccine (FluMist)
This flu vaccine is sprayed into the nose. While it is a live vaccine, the virus has been weakened so that it cannot cause the flu, though you may experience flu-like symptoms. 

Side effects: Usually minor, although they can be more severe than the side effects of the flu shot. In adults, side effects include runny nose, headache, sore throat, and cough; in children, side effects also include wheezing, vomiting, fever, and muscle aches.

The nasal vaccine can be used in:
Anyone between the ages of 2 and 49 who is generally healthy and not pregnant.

The nasal vaccine should not be used in:
-Children under 2 years old
-Children under 5 who have a history of wheezing
-Children or adolescents who are taking aspirin
-Adults 50 years old or above
-Adults who have heart disease, lung disease (like asthma), diabetes, kidney disease, Guillain-Barré syndrome, or an immune system weakened by disease or by its treatment
-Anyone with a history of a severe allergic reaction to eggs or a previous flu vaccine
-Pregnant women
-People who are in contact with someone who has an immune system severely weakened by a treatment, such as a stem cell transplant; it is safe to get this vaccine if you're in contact with people who have less severely suppressed immune systems, like people with diabetes or HIV.

Pros: The flu nasal spray is easy to take; children (and many adults) might prefer it to getting a flu shot. Also, there is evidence that in young children, FluMist might offer somewhat better protection against the flu than the traditional flu shot.

Cons: There are more restrictions on who can get FluMist, although experts expect some of these will be lifted in the near future. The side effects of the nasal vaccine may be more pronounced. Some research has shown that FluMist may be less effective in the elderly than the flu shot.

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