"Get Your Flu Shot." That's what we have been hearing this year. Last year, we heard those words, but that suddenly changed when there was an unexpected shortage of the flu vaccine.
Now, with the new flu season right around the corner, you may be wondering if you really need to get the flu shot. After all, everyone made it through last year without the vaccine. Can't your loved one make it this year without the vaccine? Can't you make it without a vaccination?
I believe you, as a family caregiver, should get vaccinated against the flu virus -- a healthy caregiver can be a better caregiver. I also believe your loved one should get a flu shot. The only reason you or your loved one should not be vaccinated is if either of you would experience serious problems from the vaccine. But that is a personal decision only you or a physician can make. You do need something to base your decision on other than the fact that you may not like shots.
Let's look at the statistics and information about the flu and the vaccines.
First of all, flu vaccines do not protect you 100% from getting the flu. The Center for Disease Control
tells us that among people 65 years or older, the flu vaccine can be 70% to 90% effective. Don't you agree that those figures are a lot better than 0%? On top of that, if you stay healthy and don't expose your lofved ones to the flu, their chances of staying healthy will improve dramatically. Why not help them stay healthy?
There are two types of vaccines:
1. The flu shot. This is a vaccine containing a neutralized virus. It is usually given with a needle in the arm. It is approved for use in people older than 6 months, including healthy people and people with chronic medical conditions. Those in the high-risk category should get the shot. You cannot get the flu from the shot. Some minor side effects might be:
* Soreness, redness or swelling where the shot was given
* Low grade fever
2. The nasal spray. This vaccine is made with live, weakened flu viruses that do not cause the flu. It is approved for healthy people from the ages of 5 years to 49 years of age. The high-risk category should not get the nasal spray. Some minor side effects might be:
* Runny nose
* Sore throat
It is recommended that everyone get the flu shot or nasal spray, but it is even more important for those at high risk for complications from the flu to get vaccinated. What about those of you who are not in the higher risk category? The Center for Disease Control recommends these people get vaccinated:
1. People who can transmit the flu to others at high risk of complications (does that sound like a caregiver?).
2. People at higher risk:
* People 65 years of age or older
* People living in nursing homes or other long-term care facilities that house people with long-term illnesses
* Adults and children 6 months old or older with chronic health conditions
* Adults and children 6 months old or older who needed regular medical care or were in the hospital the previous year because of metabolic disease (like diabetes), chronic kidney disease, or weakened immune system diseases.
* Children 6 months to 18 years of age who are on long-term aspirin therapy.
* Pregnant women
* People with any condition that makes it hard to swallow or breathe.
3. People 50-64 years of age. Nearly one-third of people in this age group have medical conditions that put them in the higher risk category of serious complications from the flu.
People who should not get either vaccine are:
1. People who have a severe allergy to chicken eggs.
2. People who have had a severe reaction to a flu vaccination in the past.
3. People who previously developed Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS - an illness characterized by fever, nerve damage, and muscle weakness) within 6 weeks of getting an influenza vaccine.
4. Influenza vaccine is not approved for use in children less than 6 months of age.
5. People who have a moderate or severe illness with a fever should wait to get vaccinated until their symptoms lessen.
There are three prescription antiviral drugs that are approved for use in preventing the flu. You should contact your doctor if you are interested in learning more about them.
And when worse comes to worse, look for these common symptoms of the flu:
3. extreme tiredness
5. sore throat
6. runny or stuffy nose
7. muscle aches
8. nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
The flu is spread from person to person in secretions of the nose and lungs. This can happen through coughing or sneezing. If you are close to a person who sneezes, or if you touch a desk that they may have sneezed on and then contact your mouth or eyes with your hands, you might be exposed to the flu. Be sure to wash your hands with soap quite often during the day.
If you are exposed to the flu, you will experience symptoms 2-4 days later. You can expose others from the day before you experience symptoms yourself until five days after you experience symptoms. Influenza typically resolves after 3-7 days, although the cough and tiredness can persist for two weeks. It may be longer in a person with a weakened immune system.
Do you see why I believe both you and your loved one should be vaccinated against the flu? Your health, and the health of your loved one is extremely important. Why not do everything you can to keep both of you as healthy as possible? It is worth a little discomfort for a short period of time.