Lives Are at Risk During Flu Season
People who forego their annual flu shot often believe that the worst thing that might happen is they’ll feel terrible for a few days and possibly miss some work.
In reality, anyone of any age can experience severe complications of the flu, which can be deadly.
“The headlines say that the very young and very old are at greatest risk,” said Ryan Murphy, younger brother of Kieron Murphy, who died last December of flu complications at age 40. “But Kier was a prime example of someone who was in the middle of his life and healthy.”
“He was the most fit he had ever been in his life, and we had run some 5Ks together,” said Kier’s older brother, Rich Murphy. Kier loved working out with the basketball and football players at West Central High School, where he was a guidance counselor.
Last year, two days before Christmas, Kier became ill with the flu and it soon became severe, causing dehydration and a racing heartbeat. He passed away around 6 a.m. on Dec. 27. “They believe that the virus had weakened his heart,” Ryan said.
Getting the word out
This year, Rich posted a message on Facebook to remind friends and family to get their flu shot. “It has become my mission to tell people to get the flu shot and clear up misconceptions – like getting the flu shot causes the flu,” Rich said.
“It’s frustrating to hear someone say they won’t get the shot because they hate needles. It’s such a simple thing. A quick shot in the arm not only can prevent you from getting sick, but also the possibility of losing your life,” Rich said.
The risk of getting the flu from the flu shot is unfounded myth, agreed Avera infectious disease specialist, Jawad Nazir, MD. “I’ve never seen a bad reaction to the flu shot. The most reaction people might experience is some minor pain at the injection site, mild body aches or malaise,” Nazir said.
Now is the time to get vaccinated, so you’ll be protected during the holiday season when the illness often spreads faster as people spend more time indoors and gather for celebrations. It takes about two weeks after the shot to develop immunity.
Vaccines improve every year
“The vaccines are improving every year,” Nazir said. This year, there are some more options, including the quadrivalent vaccine which covers two subtypes of influenza B, as well as Flublok, an antibiotics-free, latex-free, egg-free flu vaccine.
There’s also a high-dose vaccine with more antibodies for people over age 65, because the immune system weakens with age. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine indicated that the high-dose vaccine was 24.2 percent more effective in preventing flu in adults 65 years of age.
“In theory, the quadrivalent would be preferable because it covers more strains. But get whatever’s available,” Nazir advised. “Getting vaccinated is what’s most important.”
Dangerous complications of the flu can include pneumonia and sepsis, Nazir said. “The elderly and people with chronic conditions like COPD or diabetes are at highest risk. But anyone can have severe complications.”
If you share a home with an infant or elderly person, you’re also putting them at higher risk if you don’t get vaccinated.
Kier Murphy had planned on getting a flu shot last year, his brothers said. “He had taken his kids in to clinic to get theirs, but they were out of adult doses that day,” Rich said. “Like so many others would have done, he didn’t go back in time.”
“We can’t say 100 percent that this wouldn’t have happened, but there’s a much greater chance he would still be with us,” Ryan said. “That’s the takeaway – that something as simple as a flu shot can avoid a tragedy like our family has been through.”