Thursday, October 17, 2019

Should you get a flu shot?

Let’s get one thing out there up front: flu shots are not guaranteed to prevent you getting influenza. Neither are seat belts a guarantee you won’t die in a car crash or bicycle helmets that you will survive getting thrown off your bike, but we still strongly recommend that you wear your seat belt when in a car and a helmet when on your bike. Why? Because they both greatly increase your odds of surviving an accident. It is the same with a flu shot: getting the shot cuts your odds of being hospitalized or dying of influenza by about a half.
A few facts: during the 2018-19 flu season, about 50,000 Americans and 3500 Canadians died of influenza. When the CDC looked patients hospitalized with influenza, those who had received the vaccine had a 36% lower risk of dying and 34% less risk of needing to be on a ventilator than those who had not.
Even if you do catch influenza despite getting the shot, you are going to be less sick and have a much lower risk of passing the disease on to others, which is one reason health care facilities make such a push to get all of their staff immunized.
Let’s clear up some common myths. First, influenza is not just a bad cold. If someone says they missed a couple of days of work because of the flu, they did not have influenza. With influenza you are sick for a good week or more with high fever, terrible cough and ache all over.
Second, you cannot catch anything from the shot. I used to hear “I had a flu shot once and got sick, so now I don’t get one.” The influenza vaccine is a “killed vaccine.” There is no live virus in the shot, just ground up particles from killed viruses. What may happen is that after getting a flu shot you get the same cold you were going to get anyway, and blame it on the shot. While you may get minor soreness at the site of the injection, serious side effects are very rare.
“I’m not around people that much, so I don’t need it.” True if you are a hermit, but not if you are a normal person, even an at-home worker. It is clearly true that school teachers, bus drivers and others who are around lots of people are at higher risk, but in an epidemic year we are all at risk.
Finally, “they never get it right.” We are all aware that some years the vaccine seems more protective than others, because the public health authorities who tell the manufacturers what strains of influenza to include in each year’s vaccine are making “educated guesses,” based on which strains were common in the southern hemisphere during their season. Some years they get it spot on and others they do not, but even a less-than-perfect vaccine is better than none.
So… role up your sleeve and do it before the flu season is in full swing.

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