Should You Consider Getting The Flu Vaccine?

Hey there Guys,

Well here in Australia we are heading toward winter and family doctors like myself are preparing for cold and flu season. Today I thought it might be a good idea to talk about this year’s flu vaccine and whether it might be something you wish to consider.

Each year in Australia it is estimated that approximately 4000 people are hospitalised due to flu and 85 people have died. Different from the common cold , seasonal flu (Influenza) can lead to significant illness. As noted from The Australian Immunisation Handbook:

Influenza is transmitted from person to person via virus-containing respiratory aerosols, droplets produced during coughing or sneezing, or by direct contact with respiratory secretions. Influenza virus infection causes a wide spectrum of disease from minimal or no symptoms, to respiratory illness with systemic features, to multisystem complications and death from primary viral or secondary bacterial pneumonia. Severe disease is more likely with advanced age, lack of previous exposure to antigenically related influenza virus, greater virulence of the viral strain, chronic conditions such as heart or lung disease, renal failure and diabetes, chronic neurological conditions, pregnancy, and smoking. Annual attack rates in the general community are typically 5 to 10%,
but may be up to 20% in some years. In households and ‘closed’ populations, attack rates may be 2 to 3 times higher.

To summarise, about 5-10% of the population each year will get the flu. The illness can range from mild  with “cough and cold” like symptoms right though to life threatening illness from the virus itself or secondary infection on top of the initial effects of the virus.

People who have chronic illness, poor immune systems or who are over the age of 65 are at higher risk of more severe illness.

Who should consider flu vaccination?

Currently the Australian government is offering free flu vaccinations to the following people:

  • People aged 65 or older
  • All Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples aged 15 years and over
  • Pregnant women and
  • Individuals aged 6 months and over with medical conditions predisposing to severe influenza:
    • cardiac disease, including cyanotic congenital heart disease, coronary artery disease and congestive heart failure
    • chronic respiratory conditions, including suppurative lung disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and severe asthma
    • other chronic illnesses requiring regular medical follow up or hospitalisation in the previous year, including diabetes mellitus, chronic metabolic diseases, chronic renal failure, and haemoglobinopathies
    • chronic neurological conditions that impact on respiratory function, including multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injuries, and seizure disorders
    • impaired immunity, including HIV, malignancy and chronic steroid use
    • children aged 6 months to 10 years on long-term aspirin therapy

If you are over 65, living with chronic diseases like heart disease, HIV, lung disease or other long term medical issues, ask your doctor if you are eligible for a free flu vaccination.

Who else should consider getting a flu vaccine?

Other people who should consider getting a flu vaccine include:

  • People working in health care
  • People who have a lot of exposure to members of the general public, for example bank tellers and shop assistants
  • People living with people who have chronic illness
  • People who are considering international travel during the flu season

While not everyone can receive the flu vaccine for free, it is worth considering if getting sick was to significantly impact your life, livelihood or the people around you. How much could 1-2 weeks off work cost you?

Is there anyone that should not get the flu vaccine?

The flu vaccine is currently grown in eggs therefore if you have severe allergic reactions to eggs you should not have the flu vaccine.

If you have ever had a severe allergic reaction to a flu vaccine, or if you are allergic to any of its components it is not recommended to have another.

Because the flu injection does not contain live virus it is safe to administer to people living with HIV. While not offered in Australia the attenuated live virus nasal spray should not be used in people who are HIV positive.

People who have had Guillain-Barré Syndrome after administration of the flu vaccine should discuss with their doctor the potential risks and benefits of having another flu vaccine. Please be aware that this is a very rare occurrence with only 1-2 episodes happening per million people vaccinated.

Are there any side effects from the flu vaccine?

By far the most common side effects is that the injection site can be a bit sore and reddened. About one in ten people may have a mild fever and feel a little off colour for 1-2 days. Please be aware that this is not the flu but your body’s immune system ramping up. The vaccine does not contain live virus so it’s actually a good indicator that your body is having a response to the immunisation. Protection against the flu is highest 2 weeks after your injection and lasts for 6 to 12 months.

So guys, if you are considering having a flu vaccine this year be sure to start thinking about it now. The 2012 flu vaccination is now available in Australia so be sure to talk to your doctor sooner rather than later.

If you have any thoughts, questions or concerns please feel feel to either send me an email or leave a comment in the boxes below.

Yours in good health.

Dr George


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