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Healthy Outlook

Talk Yourself into a Flu Shot this Fall

By Paul Leung

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Many of us believe that getting a flu vaccine is a good idea, but too many still manage to avoid it each fall.

Flu vaccine is abundant now, and the best time to get vaccinated is before the flu season is in full swing. But life is busy enough already, and making time is an errand we do not like, especially when it is making time to get poked. And how are we going to feel afterwards?

Sometimes we even convince ourselves that our risk of catching flu is low, and getting sick is not a big deal.

Unfortunately, flu can be very serious.

Some people are more likely to become dangerously sick if they catch any strain of flu, including young children, pregnant women, and people with health conditions such as asthma or diabetes. But flu can cause anyone to have a bad bout of fever, fatigue and body aches. It can even lead to pneumonia.

People who believe they are too young or too healthy to get dangerously ill should know that last season, more than half the people hospitalized with H1N1 in the United States were between 18 and 64.

H1N1, a common strain of flu virus, defies old assumptions about who is vulnerable, as it can hit the "too-young" and "too-healthy" crowd hard.

That's why doctors recommend an annual flu vaccine for everyone 6 months and older.

All flu vaccines, including those arriving this month at doctor's offices and pharmacies across Contra Costa County provides protection against the common influenza virus strains, including H1N1.

Vaccination is not a guarantee against the flu, but getting vaccinated greatly improves your chances of avoiding the illness, or becoming severely sick if you do catch it.

For that reason alone we should make time for flu vaccine, just like we make time to fasten our seatbelts before driving. We do not have time for a week off work with the flu.

You cannot get the flu from flu vaccine, though some may feel tired, warm, or achy for a day or two after the shot. A different winter disease, such as a cold or norovirus, is the usual culprit when someone actually gets sick around the time of vaccination.

Norovirus, also called "stomach flu," is not influenza at all, and therefore is not prevented by vaccine. Norovirus is common in winter, very contagious, and usually causes a day or two of vomiting and diarrhea. Frequent hand-washing with soap and water can help you avoid colds and norovirus.

Most people need one to two weeks to develop protection after receiving the vaccine, so some may come down with the flu if they are infected during this time. Protection from vaccine lasts the entire season, which usually runs from November to March or April, so it's a good idea to get vaccinated now in advance of the flu season.

Flu vaccine is available in several forms, including a nasal spray and an extra-tiny needle for people who hate getting poked. In fact, the nasal spray is the recommended vaccine for most children from ages 2 to 8, because it works really well in this group.

So this fall, why not try talk yourself into a flu shot? There is no shortage of good reasons, and the conversation takes less energy than battling a bout of flu.

To learn more, or to find a vaccination clinic near you, please visit cchealth.org/flu.

Healthy Outlook is written by the professional staff of Contra Costa Health Services, the county health department. Send questions to series coordinator Dr. David Pepper at theairdoctor@gmail.com. For more health information, go to www.cchealth.org.
About the Author
Paul Leung is the Immunization Coordinator for Contra Costa Health Services.