When a nurse with 30 years experience was asked if she gets a flu shot, Deborah Braun laughs and says, "Every year!" The Manassas, Va. nurse says that she learned her lesson about the flu shot many years ago when she was working in pediatrics. "I didn't get the shot and despite all of my precautions of washing hands and keeping utensils wiped clean, I still became very sick. I've had a flu shot every year since," she says.
Braun is just one medical professional among thousands who is reassuring patients about the importance of getting a flu shot as the flu season begins.
A study released by the University of Minnesota in late October indicated that the efficacy of flu shot could be improved, but the lead author of the study Michael Osterholm, MD, told The Wall Street Journal health blog that the results are by no means a reason not to get vaccinated.
"Everyone six months and older should get a flu shot. It is important to note that children, older adults, and pregnant women as well as people with chronic medical conditions like asthma are at greater risk for the flu," says Arveen Thethi, MD, of Allergy and Asthma Care Centers, which has 11 offices in Virginia and Maryland.
The flu vaccine for this coming flu season is the same as last year and includes three main flu strains based on the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations. There are many different flu strains each year, but the vaccine is made up of the three most common.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says because influenza activity in the U.S. is low right now, this is the perfect time to get vaccinated. It takes about two weeks after the vaccination for your body to develop an immune response.
Thethi indicates that she and other healthcare professionals fight one common misconception among patients about the flu shot. "A lot of people don't get a flu shot every year because they think the shot itself can cause the flu. It does not. It's a common misconception, but people continue to believe it," she says.
Generally the protection from one flu shot will last the entire flu season. Children ages nine or younger who have never had the flu shot before should receive two vaccines, because they are only given half a dose at a time.
Some other facts about the flu that you should know:
- The flu season runs from November to April
- Hundreds of thousands of people get the flu every year
- 90 percent of the deaths from the flu are in people over 65 years of age
- This year's flu shot also protects people from H1N1
Patients with chronic diseases like asthma are at higher risk for contracting the flu this winter. According to Allergy and Asthma Care Centers' website, there are 22 million people with asthma in the United States, and 6 million of those are children. In addition to asthma, chronic kidney and liver disease, sickle cell, HIV/AIDS, cerebral palsy and epilepsy are higher risk factors for getting the flu. Patients with those chronic conditions are strongly urged to get a flu shot.
Braun says that she always made sure that her husband and two teenage sons get a flu shot every year. This year her oldest son, who is away at college, didn't get his shot and sure enough he has already contracted the flu and was sick for several days. "Now he knows what I learned the hard way many years ago when I didn't get my flu shot. The flu shot is a great preventive tool that everyone should use," she says.