The argument to vaccinate (or not) against influenza is a complicated issue. The fact is, vaccination is still the best way to prevent the spread of the disease while protecting yourself from contracting the illness. There is no doubt, that some individuals are at greater risk of developing serious complications related to influenza. Many become so ill that they require hospitalization, while others succumb to the disease.
The purpose of this article is to provide you with enough information to help you make an informed decision. As always, consult with your health care provider to discuss your specific situation.
Influenza, commonly known as the flu, is a contagious viral infection spread predominately through coughing and sneezing. Common symptoms include high fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, sore throat, cough, and generalized fatigue.
Although it peaks in January and February, the disease is active from November to May.
Vaccinate to Prevent Serious Illness
The influenza virus changes from year to year-requiring annual vaccination to protect against the different strains. The vaccination is available in two different forms, the traditional injection, which contains an inactivated (killed) virus, or as an attenuated (live and weakened) virus that is sprayed into the nostrils. Both routes provide full protection against influenza.
According to the Centers of Disease Control (CDC), this year’s vaccine will protect against the following viral illnesses only:
• Influenza B
Those at Risk
Influenza is a highly contagious illness causing approximately 200,000 hospital admissions, and about 36,000 deaths per year. Pneumonia, a serious respiratory complication, accounts for over 90% of flu-related deaths. Moreover, children under the age of five, who contract the disease, are at risk of developing febrile seizures, a serious neurological condition. Annual vaccination is recommended for those individuals at greatest risk of developing serious flu-related medical complications:
• infants (six months of age and over),
• pregnant women,
• the elderly,
• individuals with respiratory, cardiac, or kidney diseases,
• Individuals with compromised immunity,
• Health care and daycare providers, and
• Primary caregivers to those at high risk
Possible (Mild) Side Effects
Like any other medication, the influenza vaccination does have potential side effects. The most common side effects occur at the injection site, and include redness, pain and muscle soreness. Alternatively, some individuals experience systemic side effects that include red or itchy eyes, cough, fever, and body aches.
Treating Side Effects
Recommendations to help combat vaccination-related side effects include:
• Applying a cold and wet compress to the injection site,
• Increasing fluid intake,
• Taking acetaminophen or ibuprofen (as directed) to reduce pain and fever,
• Extra rest
Many individuals feel a need to guard or protect the arm that received the vaccination. In fact, it is best to use the arm to help metabolize the medication and decrease the incidence of muscle ache and pain.
When to Contact your Doctor
Contact your doctor immediately should you experience any of the following symptoms:
• High fever
• Breathing difficulty or shortness of breath (call 911 if severe)
• Hoarseness or wheezing
• Rash or hives
Vaccine-Related (Serious) Complications
The influenza vaccine is prepared in chicken embryos, this type of vaccination is prohibitive to those with a chicken egg allergy. The Centers of Disease Control (CDC) has reported that, although rare, serious medical conditions have been associated with viral related vaccines, two of which are:
• Anaphylaxes or a life-threatening allergic reaction to the medicine.
• A serious neurological condition called Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS), characterized by fever, muscle weakness, and nerve damage.
Viral vaccines are manufactured with some impurities and may contain foreign proteins (DNA/RNA), other viral material, and of recent concern thiomersal, a mercury-containing preservative, found in multi-dose vials of the H1N1 flu vaccine. Advocates against vaccination argue that thiomersal can cause autism in young children. The amount of foreign DNA and RNA proteins contaminating these vaccines raise concerns that they may cause autoimmune-related conditions and cancer.
There are many who believe vaccinations in general are a bad idea. As the movement to decline vaccination increases so does many of those disease irradicated by vaccination. The debate to vaccinate (or not) is a heated one and ultimately each one of us must make an informed decision based on accurate information. Start by consulting your physician and visit the following websites for more information on the influenza vaccine: