Influenza immunization season is here. Between mid-September and New Years’ Day is the prime time to attempt to prevent the flu. People have more myths about “flu shots” than about almost any other medical procedure and certainly more than any other pediatric treatment. The “flu shot,” which is killed vaccine, has been shown in carefully controlled studies to cause almost no side effects. Some people (less than 30 percent) do get a very sore arm for a few days, but that is about it.
Many people will tell you that I got a flu shot and “it made me sick, I had the flu ” because immunization is given during the time when the most people get ill from other viruses. When compared to a similar group who did not take the influenza immunization, there was absolutely no increase in illness in the vaccinated group. But this time of year, we get primarily ill a lot from our loved ones such as our children in school and when you get ill near when you get a shot, you blame it on the shot.
Flumist, the nasal influenza vaccine, is also very safe, but it will very rarely give the vaccinee a mild case of the flu since it is a live vaccine. This is very uncommon, but does happen. Since it is a live vaccine, it is not recommended in patients with asthma or if someone who is immune-suppressed, such as someone on cancer chemotherapy, is living in the same house. The advantage of nasal flu over killed flu vaccination is that there is no shot in nasal flu.
More importantly, people do not think it is important to prevent influenza. Influenza is, with its sequel of bacterial pneumonia, a major cause of death in people over 70. The older one gets, the more fatal it gets. A recent report in Pediatrics also showed that at least 830 children died directly of influenza from Fall 2004 to Spring 2012 in the United States. Over 40 percent of these death occurred in children without any chronic medical condition and 1/3 died so quickly they never saw a doctor.