The flu virus is extremely infectious; it spreads easily by way of coughs and sneezes. At best, being infected with the flu will leave you feeling extremely sore and lethargic for around a week. At worst, it can cause death (usually in those who have weakened immune systems or preexisting conditions that leave them vulnerable). Although you can reduce your chances of catching the flu by practicing good hygiene and by avoiding those you know to be sick with the flu, it is not always easy to tell when you might be exposed. Every year, new versions of the flu vaccine are offered to reflect the changes in the currently active strains of the virus. How effective are these vaccines? Who should be considered the most important candidates for vaccination? Are the vaccines safe? Read on to discover the fourteen key facts you need to know about the seasonal flu vaccine.
1) Many studies have established the fact that flu vaccines are highly effective, though there is evidence that different people will be protected to different degrees (and there is no reliable way of predicting how effective it will be for you). In general, the seasonal flu vaccine is about 70-80% effective.
2) If you have the seasonal flu vaccine then you are unlikely to fall victim to the currently common strains of flu for up to a full year. This includes H1N1 (commonly known as swine flu), and two other flu virus strains. To be protected for the next flu season, you must have another vaccination during (or just prior to) that season.
3) The vaccine is usually administered by way of an injection given intramuscularly. Most people will have the vaccine injected into their upper arm, though some will be injected in the thigh. An alternative method involves administering the vaccine through a nasal spray, though this is not appropriate for pregnant women.
4) Even in normally healthy individuals, it is possible for the flu to lead to the development of very serious further conditions such as pneumonia and bronchitis. Hospitalization for these conditions is not uncommon, and pneumonia and bronchitis can both be deadly.
5) There are groups of people who are particularly at risk for the above complications, and are therefore strongly advised to receive vaccination against the flu. One such group is of people over the age of 65, and people who care for the elderly are also encouraged to accept the vaccine.
6) Pregnant women, regardless of their current stage of pregnancy, are at great risk of developing complications of the flu. There is no current evidence that there are increased safety risks to the mother or baby if the mother is vaccinated against the flu, and indeed there is evidence that suggests some immunity to the flu might be temporarily acquired by the baby until the age of three or four months. The current standing advice is therefore that all pregnant women should be given the flu vaccine.
7) There are some particular health conditions that predispose sufferers to develop life-threatening complications of the flu. These include asthma, kidney disease, diabetes, heart disease, liver disease, any diseases that suppress the immune system (such as HIV), and a prior history of stroke. Cancer sufferers are also advised to accept the flu vaccination, especially if they are undergoing chemotherapy or other treatments that might weaken the immune system. Anyone who is over the age of six months and might be at risk because of any of these factors should strongly consider being vaccinated against the flu.
8) Those who live with or spend a lot of time around people with weaker immune systems (either at work or at home) should consider being vaccinated against the flu in order to better protect these vulnerable people.
9) The best time to get the vaccination is between mid September and early November. This is because the flu season usually begins in the middle of November (though there are documented cases of it beginning earlier). 10) In very rare cases, the flu vaccination may cause a patient to have an anaphylactic reaction in which they very quickly go into severe respiratory distress. This can be deadly if not promptly treated, so it is a good idea to sit down for a short period of time immediately after receiving your vaccine. If you have a severe reaction in that context, a medical professional can immediately attend to you.
11) People who have previously had anaphylactic reactions to the flu vaccine or any of its components should not be given the flu vaccine again. In addition, you should not be given the standard vaccine if you have any allergy to eggs. This is because the vaccine is made inside the eggs of hens.
12) If you are acutely ill or have recently been acutely ill, you should wait until you have fully recovered before being vaccinated against the flu. However, minor illnesses do not require a delay in receiving the vaccine.
13) Most people feel somewhat unwell for 24 to 48 hours after being vaccinated. This will usually include moderate tiredness, and some discomfort around the area into which the vaccine was injected. Sometimes, there will also be a low-grade fever and some general aches.
14) In rare cases, people experience more substantial side effects. These include convulsions, nerve pain, prickling sensations, and a decrease in the blood platelets that help blood to clot. Rarer still are reactions involving brain and spinal cord inflammation.
For most who are at serious risk of developing potentially life threatening complications as a result of catching the flu, the benefits of the flu vaccination quite clearly outweigh the risks. Given the rarity of severe side effects, current evidence suggests that the benefits outweigh the risks for normally healthy individuals as well.
If you are concerned about any aspect of receiving or abstaining from the flu vaccination, talk to your doctor to learn more.
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