Two doctors weigh in on the importance of the flu shot

With the passing of the Labor Day holiday weekend, we have officially entered into flu season. This period, when instances of influenza are heightened, lasts through March and brings the risk of extreme symptoms, hospitalization and even death. Two Parkview physicians with a passion for prevention share their thoughts on the vaccine and how you can find the best option for you and your family.

Why you need a flu shot

This content was provided by Joshua Kline, MD, PPG – Family Medicine.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), every year, influenza sickens millions, hospitalizes hundreds of thousands and kills tens of thousands worldwide. It’s important to understand that Influenza is not just a common cold. When medical professionals talk about influenza (flu), we mean respiratory flu, not the stomach flu, which is completely different. 

While the flu is especially dangerous for anyone who already has a health problem (such as a weakened immune system, or heart or lung problems), it can be dangerous for healthy people, too. I had a patient recently who was in his 40s and otherwise healthy who passed away from complications from influenza. It was heartbreaking, both for me and for his family.

Even if you don’t get sick or experience symptoms from the flu, influenza is very contagious. You can be contagious before you realize that you even have it. That means you can spread it to others, some of whom may get very sick. Getting immunized helps keep everyone safe, because it’s not just about you, it’s about everyone around you. This is especially true for those who are more vulnerable to serious flu illness, like babies and young children, older people and people with certain chronic health conditions.

Here are a few things everyone should know about the flu vaccine:

  • It’s the best way to prevent the flu.  Hand washing is crucial, and staying away from sick people helps, but we can’t wash our hands every second, and we can’t always know who is sick. It’s true that the vaccine isn’t 100% effective (the effectiveness varies by year), but it’s your best option if you don’t want to get sick. The flu shot helps prevent doctor visits, hospitalization, flu complications and death. Even if you do get sick from flu, influenza vaccination has been shown in several studies to reduce the severity of the illness in people who get vaccinated but still get sick.
     
  • You should get it early.  The flu season runs from roughly September to March. The sooner you get it, the sooner you are protected. It’s best to get vaccinated before the end of October.
     
  • People with an egg allergy can get the flu shot.  If the allergy is severe you should talk to your doctor. In those cases, people should be monitored and have medications to treat an allergic reaction ready, but it’s unlikely that that anything will happen.
     
  • There are very few people who shouldn’t get a flu shot.  Children less than six months old or patients who had a definite allergic reaction to the flu shot are the only ones who can’t get a flu shot. Those with a history of Guillain-Barre Syndrome should talk to their doctor, but that’s rare. If you are significantly ill, we will sometimes postpone the shot, but people with a minor illness like a cold can get it.
     
  • There are some people who really need a flu shot.  That includes babies and pregnant women, who are at higher risk of complications, as well as people with asthma, other lung diseases, heart problems, weakened immune systems or other chronic illnesses. You should call your doctor right away about getting vaccinated if you fall into one of these groups.
     
  • You can’t catch the flu from the flu vaccine.  The virus in the vaccine is inactivated. As with any vaccine, there can be side effects, like pain at the injection site or low-grade fever, but the shot cannot give you the flu.
     
  • In Indiana and Ohio, you can get the flu shot at your doctor’s office or local pharmacy.  While your physician or advance practice provider would like you to get shots at our offices so that we have a record of it and can answer any questions, we really want you to be vaccinated, and we understand that getting to the office isn’t always easy. Many Parkview offices offer flu shots at any time or you can check with your local public health department or pharmacy. If you do get the flu shot at a pharmacy or a location other than the office, please bring documentation to your provider so that they can put it in their medical record.
Are all flu shots created equal?

This content was provided by Mark Mabus, MD, RPh, Parkview Health, lead physician builder, PPG – Medical Director, Clinical Informatics.

The best possible way to prevent the flu is with an influenza vaccination. The CDC recommends the flu shot for everyone over six months of age. While the need might not be new information for you, you might be surprised to learn that there are a variety of different types of flu shots, or that all flu shots are not created equal.

Every year, the CDC helps determine which strains of the flu the vaccine will prevent. This changes every year, hence the need to get a vaccine every year. Vaccine manufacturers also have different types of vaccines, including those that prevent against three versus four strains of the flu, regular dose and high dose, as well as injection versus nose spray formulations. So, as a patient, how do you know which type of vaccine would be best for you?

The nasal spray formulation sounds enticing because it doesn’t involve needles. This is an option for only some patients. Parents may choose to have this type for their children if the child has an extreme fear of needles. The nasal spray flu vaccine is only approved from ages 2-50 and cannot be given to patients with certain health conditions.

There are a number of health conditions that raise your risk of influenza. These include smoking, diabetes, heart disease, liver disease, kidney disease, obesity and a weakened immune system, among others. There is some evidence that a high dose or different manufacturing process in the flu shot may provide more benefit than the “regular” flu shots for these patients.

At Parkview, we are committed to improving your health, and we want you to have the best options for managing your well-being. Using the CDC's guidelines, our providers and pharmacists have established clinical criteria for the use of the different flu vaccines. In my role as Medical Director of Clinical Informatics, I have been able to integrate our electronic medical record system into this process. Our software searches your health information, located in your chart, and matches that with the most appropriate vaccine for you. So you can be assured that if you get your flu shot from Parkview, you will be getting the best available vaccine for you.

Stop by any of our PPG Primary Care and Pediatrics offices for your flu shot today. If you have any questions about influenza or the flu shot, visit flu.gov.

 

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