Flu Vaccinations – What You Need to Know
- Posted on: Dec 20 2018
It’s a debate that comes up every single year. To get a flu shot, or not to get a flu shot? In this post, we’ll cover many of the things you need to know about flu vaccinations including the pros and cons of flu vaccinations, complications that can occur, and much more.
Isn’t the flu just a bad cold that I’ll get over quickly?
Not exactly. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), “Influenza, also known as the flu, is a contagious respiratory disease that is caused by influenza viruses. Influenza viruses infect the respiratory tract (nose, throat, and lungs) in humans. The flu is different from a cold, mainly because the symptoms and complications are more severe. Influenza usually comes on suddenly and may include these symptoms: fever, headache, malaise (a feeling of being ill and without energy that can be extreme), cough, sore throat, nasal congestion, and body aches.”
Your symptoms can also last for several days or even a couple of weeks.
The Pros and Cons of Flu Vaccinations
The severity of the symptoms is just one of the reasons why it is highly recommended that people get a flu vaccine. One of the concerns many people have however, is that the flu shot will actually cause them to get sick. Do the pros outweigh the cons? Read on to draw your own conclusion.
Pros of a flu vaccination
- Not to be overly dramatic here, but a flu vaccination could save your life. As the FDA put it, “A lot of the illness and death caused by the influenza virus can be prevented by a yearly influenza vaccine.”
- This is especially true for people in high-risk occupations such as doctors and nurses, police, fire department personnel, and emergency medical services. They come into contact with illnesses more than the average person and therefore, are at more risk for influenza to have an extreme negative impact on their health.
- Contrary to popular belief, the flu vaccine can help you prevent getting the flu, or at least make you resistant to it. A lot of people fear the vaccine is actually injecting you with the flu, but the CDC states that the reality is “Flu vaccines cause antibodies to develop in the body about two weeks after vaccination. These antibodies provide protection against infection with the viruses that are in the vaccine.”
- The vaccine is also not a live strain of the influenza virus. “Flu vaccines that are administered with a needle are currently made in two ways: the vaccine is made either with a) flu vaccine viruses that have been killed (inactivated) and are therefore not infectious, or b) with proteins from a flu vaccine virus instead of flu vaccine viruses.”
- Those who get the flu vaccination often get to skip the symptoms that come with contracting the illness. Wouldn’t it be nice to avoid fevers, coughing, sore throats, body aches, extreme exhaustion, and runny or stuffy noses?
- There are vaccines available as a nasal spray in lieu of a needle. However, this option is not recommended for people older than 50, pregnant women, or people with a compromised immune system.
- You may save the time and financial costs of needing an X-ray or CT scan. Diagnostic imaging is sometimes required when people don’t get a flu vaccination because they endure complications that result from contracting the influenza virus. More on that below.
Cons of a flu vaccination
- The flu vaccination may not be safe for children under six months of age, and it is also not safe for those prone to allergic reactions of the vaccine itself.
- Having a flu vaccination does not guarantee you won’t get the flu. According to the CDC, “Influenza vaccine effectiveness (VE) can vary from year to year. The protection provided by a flu vaccine depends on the age and health status of the person getting the vaccine, and the similarity or “match” between the viruses or virus in the vaccine and those in circulation.”
- The good news is in most cases, if you do still get the flu, your symptoms should be less severe, and you should get over it faster if you have had a flu vaccination.
- In extremely rare cases, having a flu vaccination can trigger the condition known as Guillain-Barre syndrome. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke defines Guillain-Barre syndrome as “a rare neurological disorder in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks part of its peripheral nervous system—the network of nerves located outside of the brain and spinal cord. GBS can range from a very mild case with brief weakness to nearly devastating paralysis, leaving the person unable to breathe independently.”
- “Fortunately, most people eventually recover from even the most severe cases of GBS. After recovery, some people will continue to have some degree of weakness.”
Common Complications of Having the Flu
The most common complications one can endure from contracting influenza are:
- Bacterial pneumonia
- Ear and sinus infections
- Severe dehydration
- And in the worst cases congestive heart failure
Though not as common, additional complications due to the flu can include:
- Heart attacks
- Bronchitis and bronchial pneumonia
- Muscle inflammation
- Central nervous system problems
- And as we mentioned above, in the worst cases – death
In the event you think you may be suffering from these complications as a result of having the flu, you may need a chest X-ray (to check for pneumonia), or a CT scan of your head or neck (to check for sinus or ear infections).
If you think you do have one or more complications resulting from the flu, don’t wait to have it checked out. Most people are back on their feet after a few days, but some people who get the flu are out for weeks. Those who have complications can be sick for even longer, and may need antibiotics and more intensive treatments to get well.
When should you get a CT scan of your head or neck to check for sinus or ear infections?
If you have the following symptoms for more than 10 days, you’ll want to schedule a CT scan:
- Post-nasal drip
- Blockage in your nose
- Thick or yellow discharge in your nose (sometimes this discharge will have a foul odor)
- Pressure and/or pain around your eyes and face
When should you get an Xray of your chest to check for pneumonia?
The symptoms of pneumonia are often pretty similar to those of the flu, but they are more extreme. They include:
- Wheezing when you cough
- High fevers up to 105°F
- Coughing up green or yellow mucus – call your doctor immediately if this mucus is bloody
- Low appetite
- Extreme exhaustion
- Your lips and fingernails may turn blue
- Rapid breathing and/or heartbeat
- Excessive sweating
- Sharp pains in the chest
If you have seen a doctor for the flu, and have not started to get better or your symptoms worsen, it may be time to have an X-ray to check for pneumonia. However, if you already suspect you have pneumonia, it may be a good idea to go ahead and get checked out as this is one illness that will not go away on its own.
Bottom line: A Flu Vaccination is Probably a Good Idea
In our opinion, if you’re older than six months and healthy enough to get a flu vaccination, it doesn’t make sense to opt out of one. The flu is extremely contagious, and with all the complications that it can cause, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
To learn more about X-rays and CT scans in Humble and in Houston, click here. Though we hope you never need our services, if you do, we’d be honored to serve you.