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  • Why do I need a flu shot?

Published on October 17, 2012

Why do I need a flu shot?

By Jan Johnson MS, CIC
Avera Sacred Heart Hospital

Influenza is sometimes confused with the common cold; however, influenza is more severe. It is estimated there are 7 million to 50 million cases of influenza nationwide. On average, over a quarter of a million people are hospitalized every year and 36,000 die.

Influenza, often called the ‘flu’, is a respiratory infection caused by the influenza virus. Influenza can be similar to a cold in that it can produce respiratory symptoms such as coughing, runny nose, and sore throat. However, influenza is more likely to cause fever, headache, extreme fatigue and muscle aches. Influenza symptoms come on fast, are often severe and can last several weeks. Influenza may cause nausea and vomiting in young children, but this is usually not the case in adults.

Influenza places a person at greater risk for other illnesses. These illnesses include viral or bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections, dehydrations and worsening of other chronic conditions such as congestive heart failure, asthma, or diabetes. The risk of complications is greater for people 65 years and older, very young children, pregnant women, American Indians, people who have lung or heart diseases, certain chronic health problems, or weakened immune systems.

Influenza, like colds, spreads easily from person to person through breathing, coughing and sneezing. The virus can also spread by touching surfaces or objects that have the flu virus on it, and then touching you own mouth, nose or eyes. Influenza is infections for one day before you develop symptoms and up to seven days after symptoms begin. Children can spread the influenza virus up to 21 days after symptoms start. You may also have a “subclinical” case of influenza. This means that you might not have symptoms, or symptoms may be so mild that you do not know you are spreading the disease.

The best way to prevent influenza is to get a yearly “flu shot”. By getting the flu shot you help decrease the number of people who can transmit the virus. The Centers for Disease Prevention and Control recommend that everyone 6 months or older receive flu vaccine every year.

You cannot get the flu from a flu shot. The most common side effect is soreness at the site where the shot was injected. A small number of people will develop aching and a fever, which is nowhere near as severe as getting the flu. This side effect is caused by your body developing immunity to the flu and usually does not last very long.

There are other ways you can reduce the risk of catching or spreading colds and influenza to others:

  • Clean your hands after coughing or sneezing into your hand and before eating
  • Use a tissue to cough into and dispose of tissue in trash, then wash your hands or use alcohol hand gels
  • Keep your hands away from you face, especially your nose and mouth
  • Eating healthy foods (try to avoid high sugar and highly processed foods)
  • Find ways to manage stress (exercise, think positive thoughts)
  • Stay home if you are sick, especially if you have influenza
  • Do not share food items or utensils
  • Get plenty of rest
  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • Do not visit people in long-term care centers or hospitals if you have respiratory symptoms. Hospitalized patients and residents in long-term care facilities have a greater chance of developing complications from influenza.

If the flu does strike, there are antiviral medicines that can shorten the effects of the illness. The antiviral medications should be given during the first few days of the illness to be effective. Be sure to contact your doctor to report your symptoms and find out if these medications are right for you.

Influenza is much more serious than the common cold. Fortunately, there are many steps we can take to prevent influenza!