The 2010 influenza season officially begins in October, but cases of flu in some areas of the country have already been reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The infection usually peaks in January, February and March and usually ends by May. It is impossible to predict ahead of time how bad the flu season might be, but as we learned with the H1N1 (swine flu) last year, it’s best to be prepared.
Fortunately the H1N1 bug never became the nightmare that it could have been. But it was bad enough, killing almost 13,000 people and sickening more than 60 million in the U.S. alone.
This year’s flu shot will provide protection against the three strains of flu expected to be most prevalent: H1N1, a new strain called H3N2 and influenza B. The swine flu virus will most likely affect the young, as it did this past year, and H3N2 will cause illness among the elderly. Those who had either the seasonal or the swine flu vaccine last year are recommended to get this year’s flu shot as well. There is no anticipated shortage of flu vaccine this year, as there was last year.
The new 2010 vaccine is now becoming available to the public. I recommend that people get immunized as soon as it is available, as there is no good reason to delay it. After being immunized, it takes about two weeks to become effective and it will last all through the flu season.
Although I recommend that everyone be immunized, these following groups are the most at risk:
* Pregnant women.
* Children younger than 5, but especially children younger than 2 years old.
* People 50 years of age or older.
* Those with chronic medical conditions or who live in nursing homes.
* Those who work in the health care industry
* Those who live with persons with chronic disease who are at high risk for the flu
* Those who live with or take care of infants younger than 6 months old (these children are too young to be vaccinated).
The viruses used in the flu shot are killed (inactivated), so you cannot get the flu from the flu shot. However, some minor side effects can occur, including soreness, redness or swelling at the site of the injection; a low-grade fever; and generalized aches
If these side effects occur, they usually show up soon after the shot and last 1 to 2 days.
Some people should not be vaccinated. They are the following:
* People who have a severe allergy to chicken eggs
* Those who have had a severe reaction to an influenza vaccination in the past
* Infants younger than 6 months of age
Also, those who are sick with a fever should wait until they recover to be vaccinated.
So, should you get a flu vaccine this year? All I can say that as I look back over my past 37 years of medical practice, the vast majority of patients whom I have treated for symptoms of influenza have been people who were not immunized.