“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” I don’t know who said it first, but I say it almost every day. As a primary care doctor, at least half of my day is spent on preventative medicine. My goal is to get and keep people healthy. Being healthy is the Best! It’s my favorite! So for the next month my blog will focus on some prevention recommendations and discussion about how to stay healthy.
It’s October, pumpkin spice lattes are flowing, sweater weather is upon us, and the leaves are changing, so let’s talk about some very fall-specific preventative medicine! The flu shot (No it does not come in Pumpkin flavor, yet. Science you should work on that) I’m gonna go ahead and start by saying, Get your Darn Flu Shot! Just get it, now, you’ll thank me later.
But for the sceptics in the back, let’s dive a little deeper. What’s the big deal with the flu anyway? It’s just a bad cold right? Wrong! Influenza (the respiratory flu virus) killed about 79,000 people in the 2017-2018 season. 79,000 people! And it hospitalized 960,000 people. (https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/burden/index.html) This is way different than what most Americans think of as “the flu”. This is not your garden variety stomach bug or cold. Influenza is a really serious, particularly virulent, bug that takes no prisoners and shows no mercy! It often causes high fevers, severe body aches, respiratory distress, and pneumonia, and can last for weeks.
Side note for my history buffs out there. The “Spanish Flu” pandemic of 1918 killed almost 100 million people, a lot of them being otherwise healthy teen agers and young adults, that’s 100,000,000 if you want to see it with ALL those zeros… to Spain’s credit, it didn’t start there, they just got hit particularly hard. (https://www.history.com/topics/world-war-i/1918-flu-pandemic)
I hear it all the time, “I never get the flu, so I don’t need the flu shot,” Well that’s like saying, I’m a good drive and I never get in car accidents so I don’t need to wear my seatbelt… see how silly that sounds? You could get exposed to the flu just about anywhere. Your local grocery store, the bank, McDonalds drive through when the cashier lady sneezes on your 10 pack of chicken nuggets! It is everywhere. The typical flu season starts in the fall and goes through spring, but every year is a little different. Now is the time to get the flu shot!
Many of my patients tell me they get sick from the flu shot, so let’s put that one to bed. You can’t “get the flu” from a flu shot. It is a killed vaccine, so it has no ability to actually infect you. However, it does take about 2 weeks for full immunity to take effect, so it’s certainly possible you could still get the flu from the McDonalds drive-thru lady, or your pesky kindergartener within that time frame. You can also get a common cold or other virus around the same time as getting your flu vaccine, just by walking around town during cold and flu season. The other thing people sometimes complain of as “getting the flu” from their influenza immunization, is actually the symptoms of your immune system learning about the vaccine. We call this a cytokine response. A sore arm, stiff muscles, the sniffles for a day or two, is a small price to pay for good immunity to the actual flu. See above for a reminder about how terrible it really can be.
Now, no one will claim the flu vaccine is perfect. It relies on scientist correctly matching the vaccine with the strains of the flu that will make their way across the globe. It is also less effective than other vaccines because too small of a percentage of adults get the vaccine. (We need about 80% of you getting it to ensure good herd immunity, mooooo). It is however, the best chance you’ve got at preventing and beating the flu. Worst case scenario, you take my word for and get your flu shot. Then darn it, 2 month later you end up testing positive for influenza anyway. Well, good news! Evidence shows that the flu vaccine still helps prevent you from getting more serious complications like pneumonia, hospital admission, respiratory failure and death. So I’d say it’s worth it! (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0264410X18309976?via%3Dihub)
On final plug or getting the flu shot. You’d never doubt your doctor’s decision to put you on an antibiotic for an ear infection right? You’d just head off to the pharmacy, fill that bad boy prescription, and heal up your middle ear space with some good ol’ amoxicillin. So why would you doubt your physicians when they recommend a lifesaving, low risk ounce of prevention like the flu shot?! You can trust us, we go to school for literally 12+ years after high school to learn all this mumbo jumbo. That’s way more than Nancy has from local Facebook mom’s group. 😉
For more fun facts about the flu and the Influenza vaccine go see your family doctor, or check out the CDC’s website, and this site that has a nice reader friendly synopsis. https://www.livescience.com/40279-flu-shot-information.html
(The opinions expressed in this blog belong to the author and should not be a substitute for medical advice. Instead, go see your own family doctor to discuss your health and wellness concerns.)