Flu vaccine – who, what, why, when, where

SWINE FLU – ahhhhhhh!!!  Remember? The panic that ensued was, I think, more because of the name than because of the illness.  When I diagnosed swine flu in my patients, they looked as if I had just told them they had a really bad case of cooties. I would say, “You have the flu.”  Horrified, they would say “NOT the SWINE flu????” “Yes,” I would reply.  “I am sorry but it IS a much milder strain.”  They were not appeased and would rather have the real thing.  It was as if the whole city developed kosher sensibilities when it came to their flu acceptance.  I actually think pigs are kind of cute but the best thing that happened to that virus’ reputation was when it officially started to be known as H1N1.  Taking out the yuck factor probably sold less papers but made it more palatable.

I don’t know what the “flu news” will be this year, but we will hear it soon.  A flu outbreak is inevitable and like the common cold, you can protect yourself with boosting your immunity and avoiding germs.  Science has given us another layer of protection — the flu vaccine.

1.  Who should get it? – you should, according to the CDC.  In February of this year, flu experts (imagine telling people that was your profession?) voted that everyone over the age of 6 months should get vaccinated.  Consider it.  If you or your family fall into any of the following categories, really consider it.
– pregnant women
– children under the age of 5 (especially those between 6 and 24 months)
– people over the age of 50
– people with chronic medical conditions, e.g. asthma, diabetes, cancer, etc.
– people who are at high risk for contracting the disease and spreading the virus such as health care workers
– anyone who lives with someone who is at high risk for having complications from the flu, i.e. the elderly, infants, people who are immunocompromised

2.  What is it? – it changes every year as scientists try to target the expected flu strains.  This year it is protective against the regular flu and H1N1.  It can be in the form of an injection, usually given in the arm, of inactivated or dead flu virus.  Another option for those between the ages of 2 and 49 who are not pregnant is the nasal spray vaccine which is a live, weakened virus.  Like all vaccines, it works by building up your immunity to the virus before your body encounters it in a full-blown, real-deal way.

3.  Why should you get it? – I had the flu a few years ago.  No, I did not get my vaccine that year.  It was horrible.  I had a fever, chills, cough, severe muscle aches, headaches and stomach issues for over a week.  This is the flu at its mildest.  At its worse, it can cause pneumonia, bronchitis, muscle inflammation, infections of the nervous system and/or the lining around the heart.  For those with chronic medical conditions such as heart disease or asthma, it can worsen their condition.  This is not meant to scare you into action.  I will reserve that tactic for my entry on birth control.  But it is to make you aware that at the least, the flu is a nuisance and at the most, it is fatal.  Just the facts.

4.  When should you get it? – now.

5.  Where can you get it? – if you have a primary care doctor, and you should, call and make an appointment.  Some dentists are even giving the flu shot.  If you need to find a location near you, click here for the search by zip code feature provided by the American Lung Association.

And that concludes cold weather prep.  Now if you only had all your Christmas shopping done, you could actually enjoy the season!
Have a warm and wonderful weekend full of relaxation, wine and good food, preferably with lots of zinc and vitamin C.

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