With the Winter weather fast approaching, many people are being urged to see their local GP, immunisation clinic or pharmacy (Chemmart for example have accredited nurse immunisers at selected stores that will administer the influenza vaccine without a prescription for $27.95) to receive their annual flu shot. Each year the pros and cons for having the flu shot are put under the spot light of the media, often leaving individuals somewhat confused about whether or not they need the vaccine.
Influenza, commonly known as the flu, is caused by a virus that infects your respiratory system, including your nose and throat and often the lungs. The influenza virus is spread from person to person through contact with skin or infected surfaces and also through the air by coughing, sneezing and even talking. It is highly contagious and can make you very sick. In a person with underlying medical conditions it can often result in hospitalisation or sometimes even death.
One of the biggest misconceptions that many people have is that the flu shot will actually expose them to the influenza virus and they will get sick following their flu vaccination. One thing that is very important to understand is that the flu shot contains no live viruses. Some side effects from the flu vaccine may sometimes mimic some of the symptoms of influenza, but rest assured the influenza virus can not arise due to having the flu shot. The most common side effects that you may possibly experience following a flu vaccination are fever and malaise as well as redness and soreness at the injection site. These side affects are usually mild and resolve in a few days without the need for medical treatment.
Some people avoid the flu shot if they have had it the previous year, either because they experienced side effects or they think they are covered by their previous injection. Every year the composition of the flu vaccine is different to cater for the current influenza strains that are prevalent or likely within the community. For this reason, as well as the fact that our immunity naturally diminishes over time, people who want to be protected from the influenza virus need to have their flu shot every flu season.
In Australia, any person over 6 months of age who wishes to be protected from influenza is able to receive the flu shot. Some groups of people, such as pregnant women, people over 65 years and anyone with heart disease, diabetes, asthma, chronic lung conditions or impaired immunity are at higher risk of catching the influenza virus or are at risk of serious health complications if they catch the influenza virus. It is worth considering that immunisation against the influenza virus in the generally healthy population may also in turn stop the spreading of the virus to those who are more vulnerable, such as those mentioned above.
While having an annual flu shot is the most effective way to reduce the chances of catching influenza, there are certain groups of people who should not consider getting the flu shot. The influenza vaccine is not suitable for children younger than 6 months and if you have a current illness, it is likely that your doctor will advise you to wait until the illness has passed before receiving your flu shot. Age, race, medical history, general health and even your place of work are all factors to consider when your are contemplating whether or not you should have your flu shot this season. To make an educated decision regarding whether the flu vaccine is right for you, consult with your local health practitioner such as your doctor, pharmacist or immunisation expert.