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Confusion about the flu shot persists

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Fewer than half of Tennesseans get the flue vaccine each year, which is about the average for the United States.

According to recent data, however, nearly 70 percent of nurses opt for the vaccine.

A recent survey indicated that more than 90 percent of doctors intend to get the flu shot this year, which is a far higher number than four years ago. As recently as 2008, reports indicated a minority of physicians took the vaccine themselves, although they recommended it for their patients.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone older than 6 months get the vaccine.

So, why does more than half the population decline the flu shot? Is it because there is still a lot of confusion about whether the vaccine is helpful in preventing the illness? Maybe, so.

People cite various reasons for avoiding the vaccine.

Some simply don’t believe that the shot is effective enough, while others have reservations about getting the vaccine due to their perception it may be related to potentially dangerous side effects. Some have experienced illness symptoms soon after the shot in the past or know someone that did.

In addition, a small number are allergic to eggs or other substances used in the production of the vaccine. 

Another concern cited by patients and a few experts is that some flu vaccines contain a preservative known as thimerosal, which contains mercury.

But, there are thimerosal-free vaccines available at some providers.  

Although thimerosal has been removed from practically every other vaccine used in the United States and Europe, the CDC and the majority of the medical community assert that the use of thimerosal in the flu vaccine is safe. 

Even without vaccination, most people will not get the flu. 

Those that do will likely have a week or so of aches, fever, cough, sore throat and fatigue. Other symptoms can include diarrhea and vomiting. They will also be contagious to others during their illness.

However, a very small portion of the people who become ill with influenza may have serious complications such as pneumonia.  

This is why the vaccine is promoted: It is a way to improve your odds.

It really comes down to a matter of statistics. The flu shot does not guarantee that you will not get sick.

According to the CDC, the effectiveness of the flu vaccine hovers at about 60 percent.

The CDC points out that the vaccine is less effective in the elderly and young, which are the populations most vulnerable to the flu.

In addition, the effectiveness of the vaccine varies each year and depends on many factors, including the health of the patient, the timing of the shot, and how accurately the experts predict what specific flu strains will be active this year.

The flu virus mutates easily and therefore producing the vaccine is always a guessing game. There are many various strains of influenza virus, and each year, only a few strains actually circulate widely. In order to produce the vaccine, it is necessary to predict about a year in advance what strains of the flu virus will be spreading the following year.  

According to the CDC, January and February are usually the peak season for the flu. This means people should get the flu shot in time because it takes about two weeks for the vaccine to be effective once administered.

Most people who face serious flu-related complications are the elderly, the very young, or people with health issues that impair their natural immune system.

For most healthy people, the chances of encountering serious flu complications are remote.

But even for healthy people, getting the flu can mean up to two weeks of misery, missing work, and potentially infecting others - a problem that causes immense strain on society.

Even for people who do receive the flu shot, it is important to take additional steps that will improve the likelihood of staying well.

To reduce the chance of getting the flu virus or other respiratory inflections, be very intentional about washing your hands with soap frequently, avoid touching your face unless your hands have just been cleaned, exercise, eat well, drink plenty of fluids and get plenty of healthy sleep.

And of course, avoid close contact with anyone who has the flu.

Tagged under  CDC, Flu, Flu Shot, Health, Health Care, Living Well, Mark Kestner

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