In my New York City office, I’ve noticed several patients are developing upper respiratory infections – nothing severe, as this is common in October and November with the change in weather. In many cases, I just prescribed nasal sprays, only a few patients required antibiotics for bronchitis or sinusitis. But this reminded me that flu season is just around the corner… and this is the optimal time to get your flu shot. I rolled up my right sleeve yesterday and let my nurse, Millie, give me our preservative-free flu shot (meaning no thimerosal) into my right arm – I’m a lefty, and you do feel soreness for 24 hours. The flu shot can take up to 3 to 6 weeks to reach optimal protective levels, so getting the shot in October, or November at the latest, is the smart way to go.
Twenty years ago, I was a fellow in allergy and immunology at the St.Lukes-Roosevelt Hospital, affiliated with Columbia University. When I wasn’t working in the allergy clinic, I “moon-lighted” in the Ambulatory Walk-In Clinic at the hospital for extra money. I’ll never forget the time that I treated several patients for high fevers and found myself, several days later, with the same high fever and a couch that lasted 3 weeks. I barely dragged myself to work! After that, I vowed never to make the mistake again of not getting my flu shot. Over 2 years ago, I also had the misfortune of getting the “Swine-flu” in June, right before I was to have ankle surgery. That caught me off-guard; it wasn’t flu season. In either case, good nutrition and proper vaccination is your best defense. I especially implore my asthmatic patients, anyone with an immune condition, and the elderly to get their flu shot!
Yesterday’s USA Today helped de-bunk the 4 myths why people sometimes avoid a flu shot:
1. The flu is just a bad cold: Wrong! The flu kills up to 49,000 people a year! 200,000 are hospitalized, according to the CDC. If you have a high fever and generalized body aches get tested immediately for the Influenza virus by your doctor – they can do an instant nasal smear and decide if you need anti-viral medication.
2. The flu shot causes the flu: Wrong again! The injectable flu shot is treated so it’s not live and can’t transmit the flu to you. The nasal mist has a weakened live virus given to teenagers and adults under 55 without certain contraindications – on occasion, this can cause a runny nose.
3. Only sick people need a flu shot: Not true. Any person that is around a lot of other people can contract the flu and spread it to co-workers, family members, or fellow subway or bus riders. “Healthy” people tend to try and fight through an infection, but in the case of the flu you are just adding to your misery, and possibly spreading that misery to others.
4. Flu shots contain Mercury: Partially wrong, partially true. The single dose flu injections that we give in our office at Ocean Allergy and Asthma are thimerosal, preservative free. The FluMist nasal spray given by many pediatricians is also without thimerosal. Only the flu injections from multi-dose vials – check your with your pharmacist if you get your flu shot there – can contain thimerosal but it has not been linked to any specific disease.
Please don’t be one of the 42% of consumers surveyed that they plan to skip the flu shot – there are some things in medicine we get right, and getting a flu shot is one of them.