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The Benefits of Getting a Yearly Flu Shot
Written By : Bruce Kaler, MD 
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The benefits of getting a flu shot each year will keep you and your family from a lot of aggravation, inconvenience and prevent serious complications. The flu vaccine each year is the expert's best guess at which respiratory viruses will be affecting us each fall and winter. This complicated process of monitoring influenza activity around the globe is akin to long range weather forecasting. A lot of science and intelligent guessing goes in to a process that is simply not completely understood. Remember we are discussing the respiratory illness with symptoms of fever, sore throat, cough, generalized muscle aches and headache. Most of the time gastrointestinal symptoms are not part of this illness. Although some children with seasonal influenza may experience nausea or diarrhea, the typical seasonal flu is a distinctly different beast than viral gastroenteritis or "stomach flu".

Seasonal flu can be a very sneaky predator. It is usually spread by mucus droplets from a cough, sneeze or even talking if a droplet is broadcast at close proximity to another person. It is not generally airborne over more than a few feet. It can be acquired from touching a contaminated surface then transferring it to your own nose or mouth. Another dilemma with human to human spread of the disease is that infected individuals are contagious before they appear to be sick. Infected people are contagious one day before they demonstrate any symptoms and can continue to spread it for another week after they become ill. People who are particularly vulnerable are young children, pregnant women or people who have weakened immune systems. They may also be at risk earlier or for longer periods of time than healthy people with no chronic medical problems. These same vulnerable individuals may be at greater risk to develop complications. The death rate from the seasonal flu over the last 34 years has been re-examined to find a wide variation in the number of flu related deaths. The mildest year since 1976 was 4,700 deaths and the highest over 56,000. The new swine flu (H1N1 strain) was disturbing because it affected more people worldwide over a much longer period of time. It also resulted in a high number of deaths among young healthy people.

The 2010/2011 flu vaccine will provide coverage of the most recent H1N1 strain and two other seasonal flu strains that experts feel are most likely to be a problem. The peak of flu season is typically in January. However cases in the U.S. can start as early as October. Given the uncertainty of the last two years experts recommend getting the flu vaccine as soon as it is available which should be September in most communities. Everyone over the age of 6 months should be vaccinated unless you have an allergy to eggs, had a severe reaction to flu vaccine in the past or have had been affected by an unusual nerve condition called Guillian- Barre' Syndrome in the past, particularly in response to flu vaccine. If you are currently ill with a fever you will have to wait till you are better before receiving the vaccine. The vaccine itself imparts no protection. It stimulates your own immune system to manufacture the protective antibodies over the next 2-4 weeks after receiving the vaccine.

The best way to avoid the flu is to get the flu vaccine every year. The time is here. Be smart and be protected.

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