As we look ahead to peak influenza season in Minnesota, now is a good time to consider getting your annual flu vaccine. The vaccine is absolutely safe and can protect you from contracting the virus and suffering severe symptoms that can put you down and out for one to two weeks.
About this year’s vaccine
This year’s vaccine contains four strains of influenza, including H1N1 or swine flu. The strains included in the vaccine change every year based on extensive research and well-documented flu migration patterns in other parts of the world.
On average, about once every seven years, there is a bad match or the virus changes from the time of production to when flu season actually arrives. This is why the vaccine is not very effective some years.
In the U.S., the peak flu season is approximately November to February. However, in Minnesota, the peak is from January to February. The virus typically affects coastal states and large metro areas first, which is why I recommend that snowbirds and those who travel get their vaccinations early.
Check out this map that shows the steady progression of the virus.
Feeling sick after getting the vaccine?
One argument I commonly hear for why people opt out of the flu vaccine is they are worried they will get the flu from the vaccine. Here are some important things to consider:
Dead virus. The flu vaccine that we give here at TCHC is a dead virus. You would never get the flu from this vaccine.
Delayed effect. The vaccine takes about two weeks to become fully effective. It is possible to contract the flu in this time period, which is why it’s important to get the vaccine early.
Specific strains. The vaccine contains specific strains of the flu that researchers believe will be most prevalent during the current season. It is possible to contract a strain that is not included in the vaccine.
No response. A certain percentage of people simply don’t respond to the vaccine. The reasons are unclear, and because the vaccine changes every year, it is hard to research.
Already infected. The flu has an incubation period of up to four days. If you were already infected with the flu before you get the vaccine, then the vaccine will be ineffective.
Immune response. It is possible to have an immune response to the vaccine, which can give you muscle aches and pains or a mild fever for two to three days. This is reassuring because it means your immune system is responding to the vaccine and you are likely more protected from the flu.
Influenza – a serious illness
Influenza is extremely contagious and is spread through droplets when people talk, sneeze or cough. Typical symptoms last about one week and include high fever, muscle aches, upper respiratory infection and fatigue. Most people will experience weakness and fatigue for another one to two weeks after the actual illness.
Those most at risk are the elderly, people with weakened immune systems and children, especially infants younger than 6 months old because they can’t be vaccinated.
To a certain extent, the younger you are, the more severe your reaction will be. Most symptoms that come from the flu are caused by your immune system, so the healthier your immune system, the potentially more severe your symptoms will be.
If you come down with the flu, your best course of action is to stay home from work or school, drink plenty of fluids, get lots of rest, and take anti-inflammatory medications such as Ibuprofen or Aleve.
The flu is also a fairly significant cause of mortality in the U.S. From the 1976-1977 season to 2006-2007 season, flu-associated deaths ranged from as low as 3,000 to as high as 49,000 annually, according to the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
Because the severity of the virus is unpredictable, I highly recommend getting the vaccine as soon as is convenient for you. By doing so, you potentially avoid illness for yourself while ultimately preventing the spread to vulnerable individuals.
For additional information about influenza, visit www.cdc.gov.
About the Author: A board-certified family practitioner and Chief Medical Officer at Tri-County Health Care, Ben Hess, M.D., was inspired to study medicine because he wanted to make a difference in people’s lives every day. While not at work, Hess enjoys hunting, fishing, bowling and listening to public radio. He and his wife have three daughters and make their home in Verndale.