Influenza is a viral illness characterized by fever, sore throat, cough, runny nose, watery eyes, headache, and severe malaise and body aches. After being exposed to the virus either by touching a contaminated surface and then touching your eyes, nose, or mouth, or being within 6 feet of an infected person who is coughing or sneezing, it takes about 1-2 days (maximum 4 days) for the onset of symptoms. Influenza infection is most severe, and may even be deadly in young children, elderly persons, and persons with multiple medical problems. Fortunately there is a vaccine to prevent illness, recommended for all persons aged 6 months and older (except those with a past severe reaction to the vaccine, or a severe allergy to eggs; if you are able to eat cakes and all sorts of pastries, you are not allergic to eggs). Immunity after vaccination is not lifelong and so it has to be obtained every year. Unfortunately, the influenza vaccine, although extremely safe, is grossly underused with less than 50% of all persons getting vaccinated each season.
Below are 8 reasons why I think you should get the influenza vaccine:
– The most obvious is that you decrease your chance of becoming ill and missing work or school. Symptoms of influenza infection last no less than 3 days, and often at least a week. In fact most people still don’t feel well after 1 week and need the second week to fully recuperate.
– To protect vulnerable people around you. Because you are less likely to get infected after the flushot, you won’t be putting others such as an elderly relative, a young child, or a pregnant woman, at risk. You may think that you can just avoid being around others if you get sick. However, you start being infectious 1 day before you actually start feeling sick. During that period you are shedding virus in your secretions so that with simple coughing or sneezing you can unsuspectingly infecting others.
– If you have medical problems such as diabetes, kidney disease, heart disease and cancer you must get the flushot. With these conditions, your immune system is more strained and relatively weak so that you are less able to prevent influenza infection on your own if exposed. Because your immune system is a bit weaker, it is easier for the influenza virus to overwhelm your body and cause severe infection resulting in admission to ICU, and even death. Additionally, the inflammation caused in the body from the infection extends to the blood vessels. Inflamed cholesterol plaques in the vessels can crack causing clots to form over them, thereby resulting in heart attacks and strokes.
– To decrease the severity of illness if you do happen to get the infection. Each year, a prediction is made by scientists as to the strains of the influenza virus most likely to be circulating and causing infection. These strains are the ones included in the vaccine. However, the prediction is occasionally wrong and the vaccine is less effective. Fortunately, the protective antibodies (the police of the body) for one strain of the flu sometimes work partially to protect against another strain. With this partial protection, one may not become as ill. I saw this firsthand in the 2014-2015 flu season. There were patients with fever but not much sore throat or cough and they got better within just a few days. If you can shave a few days off the duration of illness, and also not be as sick, why wouldn’t you?
– The flushot will NOT given you influenza infection. A dead virus cannot infect you. Period. What you should know however, is that it takes up to 2 weeks for the body to produce the protective antibodies after the vaccination. If you wait until the heart of the flu season to get your vaccine, then chances are that you will get exposed before the shot has time to act and you might end up with the flu from someone, but not from the vaccine. Additionally, there are other viruses circulating at the same time as influenza which can cause ‘flu-like’ illness with runny nose, cough, etc. and that may be what you have rather than the influenza from the vaccine. This is one of my pet peeves – people talking about how the flushot gave them the flu. Ridiculous. There is a live but weakened version of the influenza vaccine which is available in inhaled form for persons deathly afraid of needles. However that form has not been found to cause any cases of influenza infection.
– It’s super available and accessible. You can get the flushot in any drugstore and in many supermarkets so not having time is not an excuse. My husband and I went to drugstore the other day to get some supplies. He went to the pharmacy counter and asked about the flushot, they gave him a one page form to fill out, he went to the back, and in altogether less than 5 minutes, he got his vaccine. You don’t have waste in excess of an hour to go to the doctor just to get the flushot.
– It’s worth it. If not free (most insurance plans cover it, even if you just go to the pharmacy to get it), the $20-30 you pay for this vaccine is a fraction of what you would have to shell out to go to the doctor/hospital and miss work if you do get the infection.
– There are more ways these days to get exposed to influenza. Nowadays everything is a touch screen – the other day, my husband and I went to a restaurant we usually go to and found that they now have touchscreen tablets at all the tables to place orders, pay the bill, sign, etc. I had to take a taxi yesterday and after swiping my card, I had to select payment options using a touch screen device. Imaging the germs that are spread from person to person using these touch screens/high touch surfaces.
If anyone was hesitant about getting the flushot before reading this, I hope I have succeeded in convincing you to get it this season. I can’t remember where I saw this analogy but I love it…a seatbelt does not protect you 100% from damage in a car accident but you still wear it. So why not get the flushot for whatever protection that it gives you, and by extension others? Go get yours today!