Dear Dr. Peg,
A few years ago, I got the flu from a flu shot, so I haven’t gotten one since, but that whole swine flu thing last year scared me. Should I get a flu shot this year? Signed, Fearful
First of all, you can’t get the flu from a flu shot. That is a common myth, but it is scientifically impossible. The flu shot contains only pieces of the flu virus, and it is as capable of making you sick as a computer can check your e-mail for you. You might get a sore arm and some mild achiness and such, but trust me; common side effects of the shot are far milder than the flu.
Have you ever had the flu?
I haven’t had it in, well, decades, thanks to the flu shot, but my son had it last year, and it reminded me up close and personal how awful the disease is. In case you’re wondering, yes, I tried to convince him to get a flu shot, but he’s 17, with a mind of his own. The poor kid shivered and sweated in his bed for a week, aching and coughing, thoroughly miserable. Experience is the best teacher: This year he got the shot.
Flu season is coming again, as it does every year from October to March. Last year was especially scary, with type A/H1N1 hitting us hard and early. Influenza kills about 36,000 Americans every year and puts 200,000 more in the hospital with pneumonia, encephalitis or other complications.
You might recall that one of our students tragically died from H1N1 last year. His parents are urging everyone to get a flu shot (see “Take one for Raymond and protect yourself from flu” at DailyLobo.com). Thanks to science and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this year’s flu shot contains pieces of H1N1, in addition to pieces of another type of influenza A and influenza B.
If you get the shot, you’ll be protected against these three types of flu, which are expected to be the most common this season. It’s all in one shot, too, unlike last year. Best of all, flu shots are free for students, faculty and staff.
If you got a flu shot last year, it has worn off by now. You need a new shot every year to avoid getting the flu. Also, you should know that the flu shot will not protect you from anything else, like colds or other respiratory viruses. You might still get sick this winter. If you take basic precautions, like keeping your body nourished with good food, exercise and sleep, sickness is less likely. Also, keep your hands off your face to avoid escorting germs into your body.
There are a few people who should not get a flu shot. Those included people who are allergic to eggs or flu shots or had a severe reaction to a flu shot in the past. If you are currently sick with anything more than a mild cold, you should wait until you’re better before you get a flu shot.
Student Health and Counseling (SHAC) offers flu shots to students without an appointment. Also, SHAC will offer two more flu shot clinics in the SUB for adult students, staff and faculty on Wednesday and October 28 from 10a.m.-2 p.m. Either place you go, the shots are free.
Bottom line is, yes, I think you should get a flu shot. Immunizations are one of the true marvels of modern medicine. Influenza is a serious and dangerous disease. Why not protect yourself?
Dr. Margaret Spencer has been a UNM student health physician for 17 years and a Daily Lobo contributing columnist for three years. Drop your questions in her box in the lobby of Student Health and Counseling, or e-mail her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. All questions will be considered, and all questioners will remain anonymous. This column has general health information only and cannot replace a visit to a health care provider.