CINCINNATI—It’s that time again: flu season.
Many people try a variety of tactics to avoid the stick of the flu vaccine needle this time of year, but Madhuri Sopirala, MD, UC Health infection prevention expert and infectious diseases physician, says it’s the best way to avoid both getting sick and spreading sickness to others.
"Of course, a person should practice good hygiene—washing hands regularly and keeping general areas in the home and workplace sanitary—to maintain health,” she says. "However, the flu shot has been shown to be 50 to 70 percent effective in warding off illness, and although people are afraid that the shot can make you sick, that’s usually not the case.”
Sopirala says the flu shot is an inactivated vaccine—meaning it contains a virus that is killed.
"The flu shot does not cause harm, although some people might run a low grade fever or may experience soreness at the spot where the shot was given,” she says. "The reason for both is that the immune system is responding to the vaccination to ‘remember’ the virus and keep you well in months to come.”
Sopriala says the vaccine contains three seasonal influenza viruses and protects against what researchers indicate will be most common during the upcoming season; the vaccine can be administered using a needle, or for those who are healthy, aged 2 to 49 and not pregnant, it can be administered in the form of a nasal spray.
"A person should not let a needle deter him or her from completing their public health duty,” she says. "Everyone who is at least 6 months old should get a flu vaccine. However, it’s especially important for people who are at high risk of developing serious complications like pneumonia if they get sick with the flu, including those with asthma, diabetes and chronic lung conditions, for pregnant women and for people over 65 years old.
"Also, people who live with or care for others who are at high risk of developing serious complications should be sure to receive their annual flu vaccination.”
Sopirala says the only reason a person should not get a flu shot is if someone is allergic to eggs or had a bad reaction to a previous flu shot.
"The benefits for most people outweigh the cons,” she says, adding that even some new preliminary research has shown that a flu shot could protect from heart disease. "The influenza vaccine provides the best protection available from seasonal flu and can lessen illness severity. We should all do our part to keep the population healthy from a preventable illness that could be serious for many.”
For more on the 2012-2013 flu vaccine, visit www.cdc.gov.