Seasonal Influenza and the Flu Vaccine

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November 18, 2013

It is that time of year; the winter holidays are upon us and so is the flu season. Even though we’ve experienced mild fall weather so far, we are already seeing a few cases of seasonal influenza. Influenza arrives every winter and sickens millions around the world each year. The very young, the elderly and those with chronic illnesses are most severely affected.

To avoid the flu and related risks, the flu shot is recommended (with rare exception) for everyone over 6 months of age. Each year’s vaccine is a little different because each year, the vaccine is produced to match the most common strains of influenza that are circulating around the world.

The flu vaccine takes about two weeks to become fully effective because it takes that long for one’s body to build up the necessary antibodies (defense) against infection. Every year, there are those who believe they contracted the flu from the vaccine when in reality, they either had already been exposed to the virus before receiving the vaccine or they came down with another respiratory virus (the common cold) or an intestinal virus. Note: intestinal viruses are commonly and mistakenly called “stomach flu” and are unrelated to seasonal influenza.

So you say, “I never get sick, I’m healthy, why should I get a flu shot.” If you are healthy, you might not get very sick with influenza. Still, you would be contagious and could give the flu to your family, acquaintances and vulnerable members of your community. When weighing whether to get the influenza vaccine or not, please consider both your health and the health of those around you.

Influenza kills thousands of people in the US every year. The best way to protect your family, classmates and co-workers is to get the flu vaccine every year, and early in the fall before influenza season is in full swing. That way, your body has plenty of time to gear up before influenza really comes knocking.

Be well!

Connie Caldwell, M.D., Yolo County Health Officer