Every year as flu season approaches and I start offering the vaccine to patients, I am asked many questions. Here are some of the most common ones along with my answers, which I hope will help you make good decisions for your health and getting immunized this year.
Q. I’ve never had the flu. Do I really need to be vaccinated?
A. Yes. Influenza vaccine is recommended for people 6 months and older. All it takes is one significant exposure to an infected person to contract the flu. Influenza is an equal-opportunity virus, infecting young and old, healthy patients and those with chronic illnesses.
Q. Is having influenza really that bad?
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A. Patients with the disease can experience painful muscle cramps, high fever, severe tiredness, runny nose and severe cough. Every patient I have who refused the vaccine and later became sick now gets the vaccine every year. So do many of their friends who saw them suffer.
Having the flu also means you can spread it to others, and those at high risk for serious complications including young children, older people, pregnant women and many with chronic diseases, could become so ill they are hospitalized. A small number of people, usually from these high-risk groups, die every year from having the flu.
Q. I had the vaccine before and still got the flu — does it really work?
A. The vaccine only prevents true influenza; patients who become sick after being vaccinated typically have another viral infection such as a cold.
It is true that getting the vaccine isn’t 100 percent effective in preventing the influenza, but lowering your risk of infection makes sense for you and those around you.
Q. Doesn’t the vaccine have a lot of side effects? Can you get the flu from being vaccinated?
A. Side effects from the vaccine, depending on which kind you receive, can include runny nose, headache, muscle aches and fever. Usually these symptoms are mild and don’t last longer than a few days.
In comparison to having influenza or spreading it to a loved one or a person at risk, it’s much less significant. The risk of having side effects is also small, and most people feel perfectly fine after being vaccinated.
Contracting influenza from getting vaccinated is virtually impossible if you are appropriately vaccinated.
Q. Is there anyone who shouldn’t get the vaccine?
A. If you have had a severe or life-threatening reaction to the flu vaccine before (an extremely rare occurrence), then you should avoid getting the vaccine again. People who are allergic to eggs should discuss with their medical provider how to be safely vaccinated. Many such people can receive the vaccine with proper medical supervision.
There are a few restrictions for patients who can receive the nasal form of the vaccine, which is approved for patients ages 2 through 49. Patients who suffer from immune-system problems or who have asthma should receive the injection instead.
What to do if you get the flu
If you or a family member get the flu, it is important to stay home, get plenty of rest and avoid contact with others as much as possible. Patients are typically contagious one day before they show symptoms, which can last about a week.
You should visit your medical professional if you have a high fever, shortness of breath or if you fall into the high-risk categories.
If you aren’t sure, call or make an appointment. It’s better to be safe and to be evaluated than to let a serious complication worsen.
Every patient must decide whether or not the vaccination is right for him or her, but in my medical opinion, the risks of the vaccine are very small and the benefits are tremendous. I recommend the vaccine to all eligible patients.
I also practice what I preach — I receive the vaccine every year, as do my wife and young son.
For more information, visit the Centers for Disease Control (cdc.gov/flu/protect/vaccine/index.htm) or the Washington State Department of Health (doh.wa.gov/youandyourfamily/illnessanddisease/flu.aspx).
Dr. Matthew Bressie practices family medicine at Pacific Medical Centers’ Northgate clinic. After earning his medical degree from the University of Michigan, he completed his residency at MultiCare Health System in Tacoma. He is certified by the American Board of Family Medicine.
Pacific Medical Centers is a private, not-for-profit, multispecialty health-care network of nine clinics in Beacon Hill, Canyon Park, Federal Way, First Hill, Lynnwood, Northgate, Puyallup, Renton and Totem Lake.