THE FLU VACCINE  101:  WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

You know the drill:  wash your hands, get enough sleep, stay away from sick people, eat right, reduce stress, and, of course, GET YOUR FLU SHOT!

What you may not know, are some of the important details of the flu vaccine.

But first, consider your immune system an army.  It is a built-in infantry of soldiers ready to defend your health, no matter what it takes.  They give their all to protect you from the enemy lurking out there, waiting to make you sick.

But like human soldiers, they need to be well-taken care of in order to perform to the best of their abilities.  They need to be well-rested, fed well, given ample water to drink, and allowed to some time to rest and relax, as well as getting enough sleep.  Giving all your bodies those things will allow your army to fight their hardest to keep you healthy. 

Ask any first-year teacher and they will likely tell you they are spending the first year of their teaching career fighting one malady after another.  Every cold and virus that the children bring to school, the teacher likely picks up.  In each successive year, however, the immune system recognizes these invaders, and has a strategy ready to fight them off. 

Now, consider the flu vaccine an advance warning of the enemy’s strategy.  You’ve been given their playbook, and now your body knows how to fight them.  Your body knows the plan of attack with the flu vaccine, and it knows exactly how to counter their attack. 

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Along with the holidays, it is the flu season.  The flu, no matter what time of year, getting the flu is no fun, not a gift.  Flu season is in full swing across the country and getting a flu shot is the most important precaution against getting the flu.  While it is not a guarantee that you will not succumb to the virus, it is the best defense. 

And, it’s not too late.  If you haven’t already gotten your flu vaccine, you still have time.  It is always recommended by the end of October, but it’s never too late.  Getting vaccinated in July or August may be too early, and may reduce resistance to the flu virus when it hits peak season.

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In 1938, Jonas Salk and Thomas Francis developed the first vaccine against flu viruses.  These first vaccines were used to protect soldiers in the U.S. military against the flu during World War II.  These early vaccines were not as purified as present-day vaccines, and they were known to cause fever, aches and fatigue.  People mistakenly thought these vaccines caused the flu, because the impurities caused symptoms that were similar to those of the flu.

In 1952, Jonas Salk used his experience in the development of the flu vaccine to develop the polio vaccine.  Imagine, for just one moment, if polio had not been eradicated.  Now, imagine how much worse the flu virus would be without Francis and Salk’s research and efforts to improve public health. 

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According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), these important points about the flu vaccine need to be known:  (www.cdc.gov)

  • While there are many strains of the flu virus, the vaccine guards against the most common 3-4.
  • A goal of researchers in the near future is to develop a vaccine that would cover all strains.
  • Anyone over six months of age should get the flu vaccine.  Babies under six months of age are at risk as well, but it is not recommended under six months.
  • Pregnant mothers should also be vaccinated.  This may also decrease the risk of the baby getting the flu.
  • Anyone caring for the baby should vaccinated.
  • It is especially important for health care workers and anyone who cares for another person to get vaccinated.
  • Even if a person does get the flu after a vaccine, there are data to suggest that their symptoms are milder.  In addition, it has been shown to greatly reduce the risk of a child dying from the flu.
  • It is imperative that those in high risk groups be vaccinated, including:  young children, pregnant women, people 65 years and older, and anyone with a chronic health condition such as asthma, diabetes, heart/lung disease.
  • There are very few people who should not get the flu vaccine, mostly due to allergies to gelatin, antibiotics, or other ingredients in the vaccine.  Egg allergies have been a cause for concern in the past.  Visiting with your health care provider about any allergy concerns is advised.  This topic is also covered on the CDC website listed above.
  • Flu vaccines are offered in multiple, easy-to-access locations.  Your health care provider can offer a vaccine, but they are also available in health departments, pharmacies and urgent care clinics.  Some workplaces offer vaccines, as do some college health centers.
  • An annual vaccine is recommended because the immunity declines throughout the year, and will not protect as well.  Secondly, the flu virus changes, and each year’s vaccine is designed to target the newest strains of the virus.

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The word “influenza,” which we have shortened to “flu,” has its origins in Europe in the 1700’s.  It was thought that a person’s health was influenced by the stars or other astrological factors.  This line of though then evolved to “influenza del freddo,” meaning “influence of the cold.” 

It is indeed prevalent in the colder months.  No matter where the word came from, the flu vaccine is always a good influence.  Be sure to get yours.