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Importance of the Flu Vaccine: General Prevention and Guidance

Introduction

The ‘flu season’ typically occurs between the fall and early spring. The duration and seriousness of the annual flu epidemic vary from year to year. Some very lucky individuals may escape unscathed from the epidemic, but whether you escaped the illness or not, you will have to be prepared to be surrounded by coughing and sneezing throughout the flu season months.

The flu vaccine is, therefore, a very important medical intervention that can prevent the onset of flu. This article explains what the vaccine is as well as general prevention of flu and guidance for taking the flu vaccine.

What is the difference between the flu and a common cold?

Symptoms of the flu and the common cold can be similar but the cold symptoms tend to be much milder. If you are bed-ridden and really overcome with coughing, fever, sore throat, runny nose and headache you will most likely have the flu.

If you have these symptoms but can generally function and get on with your day, you will most likely have a common cold.

How does the flu vaccine work?

Despite occurring annually, the flu virus is continuing to be widespread and difficult to circumvent because the virus is forever adapting and changing. To counter this, new flu vaccines are developed every year to cope with these rapid viral mutations.

The process that occurs starts with a prediction made by federal health experts prior to the flu season about which flu viruses are most likely to occur. This information is then used to manufacture the flu vaccines.

The chemical process that ensues once the flu shot has been administered is that your body is then prompted to produce antibodies which are designed to fend off the different types of flu virus that you may encounter. In most cases, it takes a period of two weeks after your flu vaccine for the antibodies to be fully developed.

Who needs a flu shot?

You can argue the case for everyone to get the flu vaccine, however, the reality is that some are more prone to viral infection than others. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommend that anyone above the age of 6 months should take the flu vaccine.

Whilst taking the vaccine cannot guarantee 100% prevention against the flu, they are currently the most effective prevention method.

High-Risk Individuals

Certain individuals and groups are more at risk to the contracting the flu than others. Therefore if you are in one of the groups below as identified by the CDC, it is recommended that you get the vaccine:

  • pregnant women
  • children between 6 months and 5 years of age
  • people 18 and under currently receiving aspirin therapy
  • people over the age of 50
  • anyone suffering from chronic medical conditions
  • people with a body mass index of 40 or higher
  • American Indians or Alaska Natives
  • anyone who lives or works in a nursing home or chronic care facility
  • caregivers of anyone who is in one of the above categories.

There are some chronic medical conditions that could increase the risk of encountering complications when contracting the flu, therefore take you should take the vaccine if you have one of the following conditions:

  • asthma
  • cancer
  • heart or lung problems
  • HIV/AIDS
  • metabolic diseases
  • epilepsy
  • anaemia
  • obesity
  • kidney or liver disease

Those who work in public settings have an increased risk of exposure to the flu and should, therefore, receive the vaccination, particularly those who work with high-risk individuals such as the elderly or children. Examples of public setting workers include:

  • teachers
  • daycare employees
  • hospital workers
  • healthcare providers
  • nursing homes workers
  • home care providers
  • emergency response

Who should not get a flu shot?

It is important to be aware, however, that some individuals should not get the flu vaccine because of existing conditions that do not mix well. Examples of these conditions are detailed below.

Previous bad reaction

Those who may have reacted badly to a flu vaccine in the past should not receive another flu shot.

Egg allergy

Anyone with a severe allergy to eggs should on no account take the flu vaccine. If you have a mild allergy to eggs, it is recommended that you speak to your doctor as you may still be eligible for vaccination.

Mercury allergy

Anyone with a mercury allergy should not take the flu vaccine as some of the shots contain traces of mercury to avoid contamination.

Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS)

Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS) is a rare side effect that can cause temporary paralysis after receiving the flu shot. You should speak to your doctor about the risk as you may still be eligible to take the flu vaccine.

Fever

If you are feeling unwell on the day of the vaccination, you should not proceed with the flu shot.

Are there any side effects to the flu vaccine?

Flu vaccines are generally safe for the majority of people. Some may experience flu-like symptoms 24 hours after the vaccine has been administered. Side effects include:

  • low-grade fever
  • swollen and tender areas where the shot was administered.
  • Cold chills or a headache

Symptoms like these are mild and tend to disappear after a few days.

What vaccines are available?

As previously discussed, the types of flu vaccines available differ on a yearly basis. Examples of types of vaccines include:

  • High-Dose flu shot
  • Intra-dermal flu shot
  • Nasal spray vaccine

Final Remarks

It is clear that the flu vaccine is the most effective way to protect yourself against seasonal flu. The shot can be administered via doctor appointment or local clinics and are even widely available by pharmacies and grocery stores. It is therefore very accessible and should be taken by the majority of the population. If, however, you are a high-risk individual, you should get that confirmation from a doctor as in some cases you may elect to take the vaccination.

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