Influenza: Do We Really Need a Flu Shot?

Influenza: Do We Really Need a Flu Shot?

Yes folks, it’s that time again! Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and the New Year are just around the corner. But that also means that the dreaded flu season is lurking around the corner, too.

Every year around this time we encourage people to schedule their annual flu vaccination. Why? Because it is literally the BEST available and most affordable treatment that modern medicine has to offer to effectively prevent getting this dreaded infectious (and contagious) illness. Influenza, commonly known as the “flu”, shows up every year—as predictable as celebrated holidays and varies.

It varies each year depending on how virulent (potent) that year’s influenza strain happens to be, but according to the Center for Disease (CDC) in Atlanta, an average of 30,000 deaths occurs in the U.S. every year from the flu and its complications. You may not die from getting the flu, but it can certainly make your life miserable and stop you from working or attending school or social functions.

Influenza is not a bacteria; it is a viral illness that attacks the body especially hard. The influenza virus typically enters through the respiratory system and takes hold inside your body making you very sick. Think of it as a common cold, but its severity makes you feels 5-10 times worse. Higher risk individuals include the very young, (< 6 months old), the elderly (> 65 years old) and persons living with a compromised immune system from a variety of medical conditions. Yet even in otherwise healthy individuals it still causes major illness and occasional death.

Once a person acquires the flu it’s too late to prevent it. They must endure feeling sick and miserable anywhere from 1-2 weeks, or sometimes longer if complications arise, such as a secondary bacterial infection like pneumonia or sepsis. Sepsis is a potentially life-threatening infection which rapidly spreads through the body and requires specialized treatment in the hospital.

Fortunately, there are prescription anti-viral medications like Tamiflu available from your health care provider. The medication is designed specifically to combat influenza or shorten the duration of illness by a couple days; it does NOT cure you of the disease. These medications should be started ideally within 24-48 hours from the time you become ill in order to “potentially” lesson the severity of the flu’s impact on the body. While helpful, the medication is not considered the ideal treatment, which is PREVENTION through timely, annual vaccination.

THE BEST TIME FOR VACCINATION IS NOW! Once you receive your vaccination it will take a couple of weeks for your body’s immune system to recognize it and create antibodies to fight against the annual flu. In other words, immunity against the seasonal influenza is not immediate. There are very few reasons not to be immunized: the few include an egg allergy, demonstrated previous allergy to the components in the vaccination itself, or if your physician instructs you to avoid it.

One common misconception is that the flu vaccination gives you the flu. This is completely false! It is possible to experience a mild reaction, such as respiratory inflammation and mild body discomfort for a few days after your vaccination, but this is not as severe as getting the classic flu. In this regard, the benefits still clearly outweigh any disadvantages. Finally, antibiotic therapy does NOT work for combating influenza, and therefore should not be prescribed unless there is convincing evidence of coinciding bacterial infection, but this is rare in most. To learn more about influenza visit: cdc.gov/influenza, and be sure to get your flu shot!

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  • Brian Coté, DO

    Brian Coté, DO

    Board certified in Emergency Medicine, Dr. Brian Cote has practiced at Holland Hospital for 20 years in both emergency medicine and urgent care. He's currently the Medical Director of Urgent Care. After completing his residency at Spectrum Health - Butterworth Campus, Dr. Cote decided to make west Michigan home. He continues to cultivate his passion of urgent care - enriching the lives of patient's in his care.

    All blogs by Brian Coté, DO

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