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Getting vaccinated is the best way to avoid the dreaded flu

Severe muscle aches, high fever, chills, headache, exhaustion. Most of us have stayed home suffering with symptoms of the flu at some time in our lives. Doctors say the best way to avoid the pain of flu symptoms in the future is to get vaccinated.

But it isn’t just discomfort, influenza is a serious, potentially fatal disease, especially for young children and the elderly. Every year approximately 36,000 people (mostly 65 years and older) die from influenza, and more than 200,000 are hospitalized in the United States. Flu season is upon us, having started as early as October and running as late as May. Ideally, November is the best time to get a flu shot, but December is not too late. The flu vaccine contains viruses that have been killed (inactivated), so you cannot get the flu from the flu shot. These viruses cause your body to build antibodies that in turn protect you against flu infection. Protection starts about two weeks after the vaccination.

Anyone can get a flu shot to reduce their chance of getting the flu, but people at high risk for complications from the flu should be vaccinated. According to Dr. David Euans, program director of the Family Medicine Residency Program at East Jefferson General Hospital, “The priority for getting a flu shot is for children aged 6 months to 5 years, pregnant women, people 50 years of age and older, people of any age with chronic medical conditions and people who live in nursing homes of other long-term care facilities.”
People who live with or care for any of the above, caregivers of children less than 6 months old and healthcare workers should also be vaccinated.

You may experience some soreness around where the shot was given, a low-grade fever or a few aches for one to two days after the vaccination, but serious side effects from the flu vaccine are rare. If you have had a severe allergic reaction to eggs or to a previous flu shot, you should talk to your doctor before getting one.

The flu vaccine is highly effective, but how well the flu shot works depends on the age and health of the person being vaccinated and how similar the strains in the vaccine are to those circulating the community. When the virus strains in the vaccine and the strains of flu going around are similar or a close “match,” the flu shot prevents influenza in about 70 to 90 percent of healthy persons under 65. “The flu vaccine is very effective. It is one of the most effective vaccines used. Often people who think they have gotten the flu after being vaccinated really just have a bad cold. A flu will be accompanied by an extremely high temperature, 102 degrees or higher, headache and severe muscle aches,” according to Dr. Euans.

You need to get a flu shot every year, as the viruses in the vaccine change each year. The viruses included in the vaccine are based on the findings of the World Health Organization in conjunction with the recommendation of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The vaccine also decreases in efficacy during the course of a year, so it’s necessary to be vaccinated every year.

In addition to getting vaccinated, there are other health habits that can help protect you from getting the flu. Avoid close contact with people who are sick, and if you are sick, stay home so you won’t pass on your illness to others. Cover you mouth and nose with a tissue when you sneeze or cough, and avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth, as germs are often spread this way. And like your mother told you, wash your hands. Finally, get enough sleep, exercise, keep stress levels low, drink plenty of fluids and eat a nutritious diet.

Contact your personal physician’s office, local drugstore or health department to find out where you can get vaccinated.