By Dr. Earl J. Campazzi, Jr. Civic Association Healthcare Committee Member -- The most important reason to get a flu shot this season is to avoid hospitalization and even death, such as in the devastating recent death from flu of the previously healthy 46 year-old Nicole Arnold of Jupiter.
The flu is not the common cold. It can have much more severe health effects. Like hurricanes, the flu is worse in some years. Likewise, the vaccine is more effective in some years as compared to others.
Nicole Arnold, 46, wife of Jupiter Pastor died from flu complications in August
As per the U.S. government figures, the flu can cause 12,000-56,000 deaths per year. This compares to 37,500 motor vehicle deaths in the U.S. in 2016.
Almost all of us have driven by multiple severe motor vehicle accidents (MVAs). Deaths from the flu don’t get as much publicity as car accidents – but are about as numerous.
Another reason to get the flu shot is that if you get the flu, you will feel miserable for about a week. On average, a case of the flu results in $670 in economic loss, but for many Palm Beachers whose time is very valuable, the cost could be many times that.
The flu shot is an exception to my general advice that healthcare should be tailored to the specific needs. This is because in the case of the flu vaccine you would almost certainly benefit unless your physician specifically advises you to not have it. Listed below are a variety of reasons why people choose not to get a flu shot.
In my opinion, the only scientifically valid reasons for not getting the flu shot are regarding the live virus flu nasal spray. This is the only type of flu vaccine that has the live virus in it, although it is a weakened virus. Pregnant women and patients with decreased immune system functioning should not get this vaccine. The other vaccines given by needle or needleless high-pressure jet or tiny needle just into the skin are all vaccines from virus protein. These do not contain live viruses therefore you cannot get the influenza disease.
The CDC now recommends even those with mild egg allergies (the flu shot is produced using chicken eggs) can safely get a flu shot. If you have a severe egg allergy or have had any type of severe reaction to the flu vaccine in the past, you should contact your doctor.
There are nine types of flu vaccines available for the 2018-2019 influenza season. Generally, the quadrivalent vaccine is appropriate for anyone 2-65 years of age, again unless your physician advises otherwise. For patients 65 and older, the Fluzone high-dose seasonal vaccine is recommended.
How else can I prevent influenza? Frequent handwashing is always a good idea.
In my practice, I see quite a few people who become ill 2-3 days after flying. There is often a combination of stress and exhaustion from travel that temporarily weakens the immune system. I advise my patients to wipe down their arm rests and seatback tray upon boarding the airplane.
According to a British study, influenza virus only lives for 15 minutes on someone’s hand but can live for 24 hours on a seatback tray. If someone sat before you in your seat for 2 to 4 hours with a bad case of the flu, you would never know. You cannot rely on a thorough cleaning by airline personnel, especially during a busy season. I do not recommend wearing paper masks on an airplane, as I have seen no evidence that they are effective.
What if you get the flu? This is how you will feel:
- Dry, ticklish cough
- Rapid onset of an ill feeling. Classically, you would go to bed feeling well and awake feeling sick. Alternatively, you will be perfectly fine at lunchtime and want to cancel dinner because of not feeling well.
- Low grade fever of 99 to 101 degrees.
At this point, you should seek medical care right away. I have found that the sooner I prescribe medicine Tamiflu (Generic name -- Oseltamivir), the better the outcome for my patients. The guideline is within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms. Tamiflu often decreases the severity of influenza by about 50% and decreases the days of feeling ill by about 50%.
The bottom line is that everyone should get a flu shot except for in very rare circumstance. It is readily available without appointment at most pharmacies and at your physician’s office. While not a perfect protector, it is well worth the time and minimal cost as flu can be very severe and too often deadly. Even if it isn’t, the flu leads to a miserable week of little enjoyment and little productivity.