Save Your Sick Leave: Get Your Flu Shot
By Susan Beane, M.D.
Yes, flu season is here again, and it’s important to take precautions to stay healthy this fall, because the flu can leave you seriously sick for up to two weeks! Don’t waste your valuable vacation days at home fighting a fever or taking care of a family member with the flu.
The best way to prevent the flu is to get a flu shot. A CDC report estimated that the vaccine prevented 6.6 million flu-associated illnesses—a number equivalent to the population of Arizona—in the 2012–2013 season alone.
It takes just a few minutes to get the flu vaccine, and it can save you many days of misery.
Heard that you can get sick from the vaccine? Not true. My colleague Carlos Ortiz, M.D., a pediatrician, dispels this myth and shares more about why the flu shot is so important.
Susan Beane, M.D.: Can you talk about what a vaccine is and what it contains?
Carlos Ortiz, M.D.: A vaccine is a medication—usually injected into the muscle—that we give in order to prevent people from getting sick. Usually it has an antigen, which is what causes us to produce antibodies in order to have protection against an illness. They may also have antibiotics, and they can also have preservatives that will prevent the vaccine from spoiling.
Dr. Beane: Can you talk about some common misconceptions about the flu vaccine? One that many people have is that it causes you to get sick. Is there any truth to that?
Dr. Ortiz: The flu vaccine cannot make you sick. When people get the flu vaccine, they are coincidentally exposed to other strains of flu virus that aren’t in the vaccine they’ve just been given. They may be exposed to other influenza-like diseases that aren’t in the flu vaccine. They may also be exposed to the illness in the two weeks following the administering of the vaccine because they haven’t had time to build up enough protection against the disease. And not all vaccines are 100 percent protective—getting the vaccine is no guarantee against getting the disease. That makes it critical for us to vaccinate as many people as possible. The more people we vaccinate, the less the likelihood of the illness spreading.
Dr. Beane: Should pregnant women get the flu vaccine?
Dr. Ortiz: They should definitely get the flu vaccine. It does provide a little protection for the baby. Pregnant women are at higher risk of death from influenza disease; about five percent of pregnant women who get influenza can die. They make up only one percent of the population. In other words, you’re five times more likely to die from influenza if you’re pregnant than if you’re not pregnant.
Dr. Ortiz: Definitely. The criteria for people at risk are: less than five years of age, older than six months of age, and older than 65 years of age. Everyone should be getting the flu vaccine. For older adults, their immune systems are not as strong, so they need more help to produce antibodies against influenza disease.
Dr. Beane is Vice President and Medical Director at Healthfirst. For more tips on leading a healthier lifestyle, visit the Healthfirst website at www.healthfirst.org.