Flu Shot Facts from Alaska Regional Hospital

And now a word from AKontheGO sponsor, Alaska Regional Hospital.


Every fall, the argument about whether or not to receive an influenza (flu) shot rolls around and around, until even those of us who thought we knew the facts become confused. We all want our kids to be healthy, that’s not up for discussion, but maybe these points from Ruth Townsend, Director of Health and Well Being Solutions at Alaska Regional Hospital, will offer some insight. Note: Every parent should do what he or she feels is right for her family. Always. This is, however, some good information we all could benefit from reading.

AKontheGO: We hear the statistics every fall. But really, how many people are killed annually by the flu?

Ruth Townsend: Each year an average of 20,000 children under the age of 5 are hospitalized because of influenza complications. Flu seasons vary in severity, however some children die from flu each year. Last influenza season, more than 140 flu-related pediatric deaths were reported to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)

That said, CDC does not know exactly how many people die from seasonal flu each year. There are several reasons for this. First, states are not required to report individual seasonal flu cases or deaths of people older than 18 years of age to CDC. Second, seasonal influenza is infrequently listed on death certificates of people who die from flu-related complications. Third, many seasonal flu-related deaths occur one or two weeks after a person’s initial infection, either because the person may develop a secondary bacterial co-infection (such as bacterial pneumonia) or because seasonal influenza can aggravate an existing chronic illness (such as congestive heart failure or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). Also, most people who die from seasonal flu-related complications are not tested for flu, or they seek medical care later in their illness when seasonal influenza can no longer be detected from respiratory samples.

AK: We often use the term “flu” to describe a number of maladies. But what is it, really?

RT: Seasonal Flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and lungs. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. The best way to prevent the flu is by getting a flu vaccine each year.

AK: Many people swear they have gotten the flu because of the flu shot. Is this really the case?

RT: You cannot get the Flu from a Flu shot because the vaccine is made up of “inactivated” viruses. The most common side effects from the influenza shot are soreness, redness, tenderness or swelling where the shot was given. Low-grade fever, headache and muscle aches also may occur. The most common reaction to the flu shot in adults has been soreness, redness or swelling at the spot where the shot was given. This usually lasts less than two days. This initial soreness is most likely the result of the body’s early immune response reacting to a foreign substance entering the body. Other reactions following the flu shot are usually mild and can include a low grade fever and aches. If these reactions occur, they usually begin soon after the shot and last 1-2 days. The most common reactions people have to flu vaccine are considerably less severe than the symptoms caused by actual flu illness.

AK: But what’s in this vaccine, anyway?

RT: The vaccine that ARH is administering this year is Quadrivalent – -2 a viruses and 2 B viruses; also, our vaccine does not have thimerosal (preservative); and no latex in the caps. The 2015/16 flu shot is made to protect against the following three viruses:

· an A/California/7/2009 (H1N1)pdm09-like virus
· an A/Switzerland/9715293/2013 (H3N2)-like virus
· a B/Phuket/3073/2013-like virus. (This is a B/Yamagata lineage virus)
Some of the 2015-2016 flu vaccine is quadrivalent vaccine and also protects against an additional B virus (B/Brisbane/60/2008-like virus). This is a B/Victoria lineage virus.*

*Science-speak for “bad sickness”. I made that up but after reading about these things, I can attest that you do NOT want them.

AK: Did we miss the window to get ourselves and our kids vaccinated? I thought it had to be in September or October?

RT: Most Flu activity occurs between October and May with a PEAK between December and February. Although it is recommended to get the flu vaccine as soon as possible before the flu season begins -however as long as flu viruses are circulating in the community, it’s never too late to get vaccinated.

Still haven’t received your annual flu vaccination? Check with your pediatrician, family medical care professional, pharmacy, or workplace. I checked with local pharmacies last week, and they still had plenty of vaccines available!

Take care.


(sponsored post for Alaska Regional Hospital)

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