Who needs a flu shot?
John Po, MD, is an infectious disease physician on staff at Banner Estrella Medical Center.
Question: Every year the health-care community campaigns for people to get a flu shot. Should all adults get a flu shot, or just those in high-risk groups?
Answer: Influenza is a viral infection that invades the entire body mainly through the respiratory system. This includes the nose, throat and lungs. The infection typically lasts a week but in its worst form can result in serious complications in high-risk groups of people.
These high-risk groups include:
- Pregnant women
- Children younger than 5, especially children younger than 2 years old
- People 50 years and older
- Anyone with certain chronic medical conditions
- People living in nursing homes and other long-term-care facilities
- People who frequently interact with those at high risk for flu complications.
The 2010 H1N1 influenza pandemic, affecting a great number of working-age adults, clearly demonstrated that the flu infection is indiscriminant. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 5 to 20 percent of Americans get the flu each year. Of those, about 200,000 patients require hospitalization because of serious complications.
Despite the large number who struggle with the flu every year, the number of adults getting vaccinated is quite low. Fewer than 40 percent of people ages 18-64 were vaccinated last year and just 67 percent of those older than 65.
A low flu-vaccination rate is a concern because influenza is extremely contagious. Therefore, it is important to not only protect yourself from the flu but also your family, friends, co-workers and others.
That is why the CDC now recommends "universal" flu vaccination. This means everyone 6 months and older should receive a flu vaccine unless a pre-existing allergy, illness or condition makes it unsafe to do so.
Some people may believe they have gotten the flu after receiving the vaccine because they experienced a fever and mild flulike symptoms such as malaise and mild body aches. This is not the same as getting the flu but rather is a good sign that the vaccine is building a stronger immune system against the flu. The flu vaccine actually works by boosting the immune system so that the vaccinated person will be able to fight off the real virus infection quickly during flu season. This will result in milder symptoms and a quicker recovery as opposed to getting the full brunt of flu infection.
If you have questions or concerns about receiving the flu vaccine, speak with your health-care provider. He or she will help you determine how to best protect yourself from the flu.