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Saturday, January 4, 2014

I Got the Flu and Why I Still Support the Shot

The last week has been a very long and unhealthy one.  My New Years and the days after were spent curled up on my couch or hacking from a chest rattling cough.  It came on suddenly, without much warning, and within 24 hours had meet so unwell that I rushed to the doctors office as soon as they opened.  Twelve minutes later I was swabbed and diagnosed with influenza. 

Yup, the big, awful flu.  How could that happen?  I had been a responsible adult and vaccinated myself this fall!  Every year I get the flu vaccine, especially being a nurse.  In my line of work infectious diseases are a huge inherent risk so its prudent to take precautions, from hand washing frequently, to seasonal vaccinations. 

But, if I got the flu, especially one where I was sick for several days,  why would I still be a proponent of the flu shot?  Why?  Simply put, because people can still die from the flu (yes die) if they aren't vaccinated.  I've seen it happen.  In my career I have seen even the healthy and young die in a matter of days from the regular old flu.  Its not something to be taken lightly. 

Besides the fear of death that I harbor there are two other really good reasons for the flu vaccine.  Even if you still get the flu odds are it will be much less intense had you not gotten the vaccination at all.  Had I not gotten the vaccination this year there is a good chance I would have ended up in the hospital, or worse.  The other reason is for those who can't take the vaccine or are immunocompromised - ie: most of my patients.  How immunity works is that once you are inoculated with a vaccine your body develops antibodies in resistance to that specific illness. This means your body can't harbor those diseases and pass them on to others just as much as it means you won't get sick with that disease.  So, think of it this way, your vaccine is not just protecting yourself, but protecting every single person you come in to contact with - from newborn babies to the elderly. 

There are literally dozens of strains of flu all over the world. The vaccine is comprised of five or six of the "most popular" strains found in our region.  While it is impossible to nail down exactly which one or two strains will reek the most havoc there are numerous studies done each year to try and make a match as close as possible.  So, if you are vaccinated you at least have a shield of protection against a handful of influenza strains.  Even though I was unlucky and became infected odds are I've also already come into contact (in fact I know I have) with other strains of influenza and not become ill.  This is what the vaccine does.  Without it I would have had the flu a heck of a lot more times than just once --  I'd be rounding out the alphabet of influenza ( influenza A, B, H1N1...get it?)

So, please consider that the flu vaccine is so much more than a "it might work it might not" shot.  Its so much more than that to your body and to those around you!  Also, don't think the government wants you sick or wants to inject you with something that will make you sick....  sick people do not work, they don't shop, spend money, or produce anything.  In fact, sick people cost money to care for and are a drain on the system.  Its imperative not only to yourself as an individual, but also society that we stay healthy -- despite whatever conspiracy theories are out there. 

If you do find yourself suddenly ill please do the following
  1. STAY HOME - this means no work, school, grocery store, post office, etc.  Have a friend or family member run errands for you if you can.  The flu is very contagious days prior and days after symptoms appear.  You need to be fever free for 24 hours before returning to work, etc. 
  2. Go to the Doctor - this may contradict #1, but they have masks and are a place where illness is expected.  Visiting the doctor will ensure that you receive treatment for the flu (medicine can be administered within 48hrs of symptom onset) and that ancillary symptoms are treated (like cough syrup, nebulizers, etc).
  3. GET SWABBED - the only way to know which strain of influenza, or that it is indeed influenza, is to have a nasal swab done.  This is ultra important so the CDC and state health offices have an accurate account of how many are infected, with what strain, where, etc. 
I hope that perhaps even one person reading this has considered going to get a flu vaccine if you haven't yet.  It is not to late!  You can still get vaccines well up into the spring for seasonal influenza.  


laraine said...

Jen - I know you wrote this a few days ago, so I'm hoping that by now you are feeling much better. I whole heartedly agree with you on ALL your reasons to get the flu shot. I get it for me but also for my husband and granddaughter who are both type 1 diabetics and for my 2 ten year old boys who were born premature and still have lasting respiratory issues from that. I also got the flu this year despite having the vaccine. I got ill about 2 days after getting the vaccine. A lot of folks said it was the vaccine that caused me to be ill and we both know that isn't true. My guess is I came in contact with the germs around the time I got the vaccine or I just picked up a strain that wasn't covered by the vaccine. The good news? I was the only one in my house to get sick. My husband and the boys were just fine - proof that the vaccine worked for them.

I wish more people felt like you do.

Feel better so you can get out and take more shots of the gorgeous Vermont landscape.

Kristin said...

Amen, Jen. We are vaccinated in this house. Not just for ourselves, but for those who can't get the vaccine!

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