I’ll go ahead and start with a disclaimer. I am not paid by any pharmaceutical company or the government to convince people they should get flu shots. I make my decision to recommend influenza vaccination (the flu shot) based on evidence based medicine and years of research that has proven that it is safe and effective for preventing the flu.
Let’s rewind to 1918. Considered one of the “largest medical holocausts” in history, it is estimated that 3-5% of the world population perished during that time frame from the flu- about 50-100 million people! Perspective- that’s like eliminating almost the entire population of Mexico.
It was a particularly devastating strain, and had the most severe consequences for the young healthy people infected, in contrast to typical flu which is hardest on the very young and the very old, because it was thought to create a severe inflammatory reaction in people with strong immune systems that could lead to organ failure.
20 years after this devastating blow to our world, the first influenza vaccine was created. Since that time, in conjunction with other medical advances, and of course improvements in our hygiene practices, deaths from the influenza virus have dramatically decreased- an average of 10.2 deaths per 100,000 people in the 1940s to 0.56 per 100,000 in the 1990s.
Because it is not the flu virus that is deadly itself- it is difficult to know exactly how many people die each year related to influenza infections. The problem with the flu is that typically it is the very young kiddos, who are still building their immune systems, as well as our older population, who typically have other conditions like heart failure or chronic lung disease, who can be more susceptible to developing a pneumonia or other deadly infection after the flu.
I know I just got done saying we have made huge progress in reducing death from the flu, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t still have to worry about it. We have already had 2 lives lost in Washoe County this year due to complications of the flu. If you think you could have the flu, signs and symptoms to watch for include:
Sudden onset of severe symptoms (i.e. A person started feeling terrible at 2:30, knows exactly when it hit)
- Body aches
- High Fevers/chills
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea/vomiting/diarrhea (especially in children)
People very commonly mistake the common cold for the flu, or say “I got the flu shot and I got the flu!” People can sometimes feel poorly after receiving a flu shot as their immune system appropriately reacts to the vaccination, and also commonly, in conjunction with being in your doctors office or pharmacy, you could be exposed to a viral illness that you contract because of this, but THE FLU SHOT CANNOT cause the flu! The shot is a dead virus that has no potential to cause illness or infection. The nasal spray (flumist), which is not being recommended this year due to poor protection against the flu, is a live virus, so has a small chance of making someone ill. It is not recommended typically for anyone whose immune system doesn’t work well (for example cancer patients)or in contact with someone who is immune-compromised because of this potential.
Basically, the bottom line is, flu shots save lives. Go get one!