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Ask Dr. Dunn: Do I need a flu shot?

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By Maren Dunn, D.O. Explorebigsky.com Health Writer

Since it’s fall, I’m wondering if my family and I should get the flu shot. We had them last year. Is it necessary again this year?

The short answer: YES!

Influenza is an acute respiratory illness caused by influenza A or B viruses, which causes outbreaks during the winter months. It’s spread through sneezing or coughing, and is shed by its host for two days before symptoms start, until seven days later. Symptoms include fever, muscle aches, severe malaise, headache, sore throat, runny nose and dry cough.

Typical flu sufferers usually improve over two to seven days, while some have continued fatigue and malaise for weeks. In some cases, the illness presents itself abruptly, allowing its sufferer to recall the exact time it started, while others present as a mild common cold. Unfortunately, the illness can become complicated by pneumonia in either the young, the elderly, pregnant or chronically ill. In these cases, the mortality rate rises significantly.

Children in school are at high risk of exposure and are also very effective in spreading the virus. They also tend to have more complications, such as ear infections and pneumonia. In fact, studies show that for every 10 infants six months old or less seen in the office for influenza, one will be hospitalized. This rate decreases with age to 250 to 1 by age 5. Additionally, the death rate in otherwise healthy infants and children with influenza is higher than in adults, especially children younger than 5.

Pregnant women are also at high risk for complications from influenza. Research shows they are 5 times more likely to become severely ill, which can result in miscarriage or pre-term delivery. Fortunately, the flu vaccine is safe at any stage of pregnancy. In addition, the antibodies produced by the mother cross the placenta and offer immunity to the baby for their first 6 months of life, when they are able to have their own flu vaccine.

Clearly, this illness can cause a substantial burden to any community it infects, with potentially dangerous results.

Each year researchers with the Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization track the virus and monitor its activity in order to predict the components for the flu vaccine. The vaccine is recommended yearly to keep up with changes the virus undergoes. It’s important to note that immunity from the previous shot wanes before the next season starts.

All people older than 6 months are recommended to have the flu vaccine. It’s highly recommended for people who have contact with babies, kids who are less than 5 years old, elderly or chronically ill people, or women who are pregnant. See your medical provider if you have additional questions about the flu vaccine, or log onto the CDC website at cdc.gov/flu.

Don’t hesitate to protect yourself, your family and your community from influenza!

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