Dr. John: Should you get the flu shot, does it help?

2:06 PM, Jan 23, 2013   |    comments
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Question #1
I have never gotten the flu shot in my life, and I have never gotten the flu either. Do you think I should start getting one now? I rarely get sick and when I do it is only been for few days at most. I work for a grocery store so I'm constantly touching money and dealing with sick people. Is the flu shot really a good thing? Most people I know that get it tend to get sicker more often then myself, why is this? Thanks, Sarah

The flu shot is recommended for just about everyone aged 6 months and above and becomes more important as we get older. This is because as we age our body and immune system have a harder time fighting off these types of illnesses. Like all vaccines, the flu shot is not 100 percent effective so there will be some breakthrough cases. But if you do end up getting the flu even though you got the flu vaccine chances are that it won't hit you as hard is it'll hit those that didn't get the shot. Plus the vaccine helps prevent other complications from the flu, like pneumonia, and cuts down your chances of having to get hospitalized. Researchers have also found that the flu shot seems to protect us, especially as we get older, from having heart attacks during the flu season. As for why people you know that get the shot seem sicker, that's most likely just coincidental. They have probably gotten one of the other "cold" type viruses floating around this time of the year and not the actual flu. But given your job where you are in constant contact with people and touch the things they touch your chances of getting the flu any given year are higher than most. The flu vaccine is still your best protection.

Question #2
We hear of the large number of influenza cases. But what I haven't heard ...what percent of these people did or did not receive the vaccine? And how do we really know? Not all physicians do a culture. Does the reporting include "suspected" cases as well? Inquiring minds ... Carol

Current estimates are that 42 percent of us nationwide get the flu vaccine any given year. That means more than half of us don't and aren't protected from this illness that causes hospitalizations and deaths each and every year. It is true that getting the flu vaccine won't give you 100 percent protection. No vaccine offers 100 percent protection. But the CDC estimates that getting the vaccine reduces your chances of getting the flu by 70 to 90 percent. Its effectiveness depends on how close the vaccine matches the virus circulating that same season. Some years it's not a good match, but in most years like this one the match is pretty accurate so the vaccines effectiveness is higher. But not all cases are reported. Rapid flu tests, done in most clinics, Urgent Cares and emergency rooms usually do a 15 minute test that can let you and your doctor know if you have the flu while you're in the clinic and whether it is type A or B. That way treatment can be started right away. The cases reported to the state are ones where the patient has usually been hospitalized and a longer viral culture is taken. This culture takes days to perform and gives more information about what type of A or B the flu might be. It's mostly used for statistical purposes so we can know what type of flu is circulating.

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