The burden of flu on our society is tremendous The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that influenza has resulted in between 9.3 million — 49.0 million illnesses, between 140,000 — 960,000 hospitalizations and between 12,000 — 79,000 deaths annually since 2010.
The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months of age and older should get an influenza (flu) vaccine every year, with rare exceptions.
The primary reason to not get the flu vaccine is an allergy to one of the components of the vaccine (for example gelatin) or an allergy to eggs (because the virus is raised in eggs). If you have had the rare neurologic condition called Guillian-Barre Syndrome, you also should not get the vaccine.
The standard flu shot is given into the muscle of the arm and this is the form recommended for most persons. There is an intradermal form that is injected into the skin using a much smaller needle. This form can be given to persons age 18 to 64 years.
Persons over age 65 are recommended to get the high dose form of the vaccine — Fluzone high dose. This form of the vaccine contains four times as much antigen (the part of the vaccine that causes the body to form antibodies against the flu virus) as the standard vaccine. The higher dose is intended to give older persons better protection by causing a better immune response. Vaccines are also available that contain an adjuvant. An adjuvant is an ingredient that helps to cause a greater immune response. This form of the vaccine is recommended for persons age 65 and older.
A nasal form of the vaccine is also available. This form of the vaccine provides protection against two forms of influenza A and two forms of influenza B. It may be given to persons age 2 through 49 years. This form of the vaccine contains a weakened but living form of the viruses. It is not recommended for pregnant women, persons with weakened immune systems and young children with asthma or who are taking aspirin. Ask your doctor if you can use this form of the vaccine.
The flu vaccine is especially important for persons at high risk of complications from the flu. High risk groups include: persons over the age of 65 years; persons with diabetes; persons with asthma or chronic lung diseases (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and cystic fibrosis); persons with chronic kidney or liver disease; persons with weakened immune systems (those with HIV or AIDS). Certain cancers (especially leukemia), persons receiving chemotherapy or radiation therapy for cancer and persons on drugs that weaken the immune system are also at increased risk. Again it is important to ask your healthcare provider about your risk and whether it is safe for you to get the vaccine.
If despite getting the vaccine you get the flu, avoid contact with other persons (as much as possible except to seek medical help) until your fever has been gone for 24 hours.
Dr. Samuel Abbate is a local physician practicing in Wasilla.