Flu shot… or not?
You’ll likely have noticed the influenza vaccination centers popping up, and may have wondered whether or not to get yourself or your family vaccinated this year. I’ve put together some information to better arm you – excuse the pun – in making that decision.

What is the flu?
Influenza (the flu) is an infectious disease caused by RNA viruses that affects birds and mammals, including humans.

I never had the flu before I had kids!
Influenza can be transmitted through direct contact with nasal secretions or bird droppings, or through contact with a contaminated surface. However, the most common way to transmit the flu is through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes, creating an airborne aerosol.

Symptoms of influenza usually appear one to seven days after contact. The flu can spread easily and often affects a community all at once. Students and child care workers are prone to acquiring influenza virus because they are often confined to one room. Students may become sick within two to three weeks after the flu’s arrival in their environment.

How do I know if it’s the flu or just a cold?

Many people mistake a flu for the common cold. However, while colds usually develop slowly, influenza is marked by a sudden onset and high fever. Other signs and symptoms of the flu:

High Fever (usually higher than 100 Fahrenheit)

Fatigue and weakness

Painful muscles (back, arms, and legs)

Nasal congestion

 

Chills and sweats

Lack of energy

Headache

Nausea and vomiting

Dry cough

Flushed face

Day two to four: fever and other body symptoms begin to subside. Breathing symptoms may begin to rise at this point. Flu symptoms may worsen asthma, breathing problems, and other long-term illnesses.

People may develop a sore throat, runny nose and sneezing. Nasal discharge is clear and watery indicating a viral infection. Nasal discharge that accompanies a cold will be green or yellow, indicating bacterial infecetion.

Day four to seven: fever may come back and patients often feel extremely tired for a week. In some cases, people lose their appetite.

Risk factors

While there are precautions you can take to prevent getting the flu, there are some unavoidable risk factors:

Age

influenza targets young children and people over 65

Occupation

mostly those working in hospitals and other health facilities

Living conditions

living in facilities with other residents such as nursing homes or military barracks may put you at greater risk

Weakened immune system /Chronic illness

asthmatics, diabetics, those with heart problems

Pregnancy

 

Is there an alternative to getting an injection?
The flu vaccination can be administered by injection or nasal spray. The table below provides more infomation on who can receive each kind of treatment.

Flu shot

Nasal spray

Administered through a needle — you’ll need an injection

Administered through a spray — you won’t need an injection

Contains killed viruses — you can’t pass the flu along to anyone else

Contains weakened live viruses that won’t give you the flu but that can, in rare cases, be transmitted to others

Approved for use in people 6 months of age and older

Approved for healthy people ages 2 to 49 years

Can be used in people at increased risk of flu-related complications, including pregnant women and those with chronic medical conditions

Given only to non-pregnant healthy people, not to those with chronic medical conditions, suppressed immune systems, or to children and adolescents receiving aspirin therapy

Note:

  • the influenza virus may change its structure each year, making the vaccine used in previous years ineffective.
  • the vaccine works to fight the influenza virus within two weeks after administration.
  • the vaccine is only effective against the virus strain that matches the vaccine administered. Which means you may still be susceptible to other strains of influenza.
  • The validity or effectiveness of the flu vaccine may be dependent on the match between the virus strains used to prepare the vaccine and those viruses in actual circulation.
    – The effectiveness of the vaccine may be affected by the individual taking the vaccine.

Homeopathic flu prevention
Over-the-counter medications are used to treat symptoms of influenza. If you’re looking for something to help prevent the flu, there are some natural remedies available you can use to complement the flu shot:

Echinacea (purple cornflower)
The most commonly used supplement to prevent influenza, echinacea has long been used to treat the flu (source: National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine). This supplement stimulates the immune system at the first sign of infection. It is known for being antimicrobial and antibacterial (kills or slows growth of bacteria and fungus); anti-inflammatory, and antiviral.

Elderberry
Black elderberry has been used medicinally for hundreds of years. A 2009 study found that it was an effective treatment for the H1N1 flu. It has been reported to reduce the duration of influenza symptoms by raising the levels of cytokines (molecular messengers between cells) in the body.

Astragalus
Astragalus root is dried for medicinal use. It contains antioxidants to protect cells against free radical damage, and has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to strengthen the body against disease. Because of its antiviral properties, astragalus has been found to be an effective treatment against the flu.

Still not convinced?
If you’re still not convinced that you need to get a flu shot this year, consider these facts:

(1) According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the seasonal flu vaccine reduces the risk of getting influenza by 70 to 90 percent in healthy adults.

(2) People who receive the flu shot make antibodies that help decrease the severity of their illnesses, allowing the body to cope better with the disease.

Who should get vaccinated:

Do not get vaccinated if you:

Pregnant women

Have experienced an adverse reaction to flu vaccine in the past

Older adults

Are allergic to chicken eggs

Young children

Have a fever or are feeling unwell

The simplest way to ensure you stay healthy this winter is by getting the flu shot for you and your family, especially if you have young children or will be visiting elderly relatives.