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Worth the Shot

Last updated: December 9, 2021

It begins with congestion and muscle aches and progresses with an intense headache and fatigue: It’s influenza.  

Often referred to as the flu, a contagious infection that attacks the respiratory system, the virus affects millions of people each year. The good news is that people can take steps to minimize the risk of contracting and spreading the virus. 

The Flu vs. Your Body 

Influenza viruses invade the body by infecting the nose, throat, and lungs. Symptoms range in severity but often include a fever, chills, cough, chest pressure, swollen lymph nodes, and dehydration. 

The flu is highly contagious and spreads through airborne respiratory droplets from coughing and sneezing. Close skin-to-skin contact with an infected individual, sharing drinks, or touching contaminated surfaces like doorknobs also can transmit the virus. 

Those exposed to the flu often begin to experience initial symptoms within the first two days, but sometimes it can take longer. Adults can be contagious starting the day before their symptoms appear. 

Though common, the flu may be life-threatening for patients in high-risk groups. Newborns, older adults, pregnant women, people with weak immune systems, and those with chronic diseases like diabetes or high blood pressure are at higher risk. 

Prevention is Possible 

People can protect their health and reduce their risk of contracting the virus with consistent hand washing, avoiding those who are ill, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Receiving an annual influenza vaccination, known as “the flu shot,” also can help prevent severe complications. 

“Flu shots are an important way to keep your family healthy,” says Dr. Zachary Baeseman, a Family Medicine Physician withThedaCare. “Last year, many did not get the flu shot because influenza activity was low. This year will likely be different.” 

Dr. Baeseman says about 40% to 60% of his patients receive a flu shot each year, a number that varies depending on seasonal flu trends. He encourages all patients to receive the vaccine, not only for themselves, but for others around them.  

Benefits of receiving the influenza vaccine include: 

  • Gaining immunity against strains of the virus 
  • Limiting community spread 
  • Reducing the number of flu-related hospitalizations 
  • Lowering the rate of acute respiratory infections among pregnant women 
  • Helping prevent more serious complications in high-risk patients 

“The most important thing a flu shot can do is reduce your risk of being hospitalized or dying from influenza,” Dr. Baeseman says. “It can also help reduce the amount of work you may miss if you get sick.” 

Debunking the Myths 

Misconceptions about about the flu shot and what it does — and doesn’t — do.  

“The biggest myth about the flu shot is that people get sick after they receive the shot,” Dr. Baeseman says. “Vaccinations do not lower immunity, they strengthen immunity. If you feel under the weather a few days after receiving the flu shot, it’s a good sign and means your body is responding positively to the vaccination.” 

Following extensive research, vaccination against influenza began in 1945. Today, all flu vaccines in the United States are quadrivalent, protecting against four flu viruses: two types of Influenza A and two types of Influenza B.  

“There are now preservative- and egg-free versions of the vaccine if people have any concerns with ingredients,” Dr. Baeseman says. 

It’s crucial to understand how the vaccine works. Viruses cannot reproduce in warmer temperature areas, such as the lungs. The vaccine instead causes antibodies to develop in the body and provide a barrier to fight infection. 

“It reduces the severity of symptoms, but it does not often prevent disease entirely,” Dr. Baeseman says. “If the shot reduces a person’s influenza symptoms by 40-60%, then it’s less likely they’ll develop a bacterial pneumonia in the second week of their influenza course.” 

The vaccine also can help prevent costly hospitalizations. On average, 200,000 Americans are hospitalized each year with complications arising from the flu, resulting in $10 billion in medical bills.  

Flu vaccination was associated with a 26% lower risk of ICU admission and a 31% lower risk of death from the flu, according to a 2021 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study.

Scheduling an Appointment 

ThedaCare is committed to helping patients transform their lives through access to excellent care. The long-term health of our patients is our top priority. Flu vaccination is an important step in achieving optimal health and prevention against illness.

Schedule your vaccine at a location and time convenient for you — it’s worth the shot! 

Tags: flu flu shot influenza Pharmacy

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