Each year people die from complications related to influenza (flu). Severe influenza can require hospitalization. It can cause diarrhea and seizures in children, and complicate a number of medical conditions. Although vaccination against influenza is the best way to protect yourself and your family, while preventing its spread, there are concerns associated with its usage. For example, since the influenza vaccine is prepared in chicken embryos, this type of vaccination is prohibitive to those with a chicken egg allergy. Consult your physician to discuss the pros/cons of vaccination.
Influenza is a contagious viral infection spread predominately through coughing and sneezing. Common symptoms include high fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, sore throat, cough, and generalized fatigue.
Although the flu can occur at anytime, it is most active during the period of November to May with peaks seen in January and February.
Vaccinate to Prevent Serious Illness
The influenza virus changes from year to year-requiring annual vaccination to protect against the different strains. The vaccination is available in two different forms, the traditional injection, which contains an inactivated (killed) virus, or as an attenuated (live and weakened) virus that is sprayed into the nostrils. Both routes provide full protection against influenza.
According to the Centers of Disease Control (CDC), this year's vaccine will protect against the following viral illnesses only:
- Influenza B
Those at Risk - Benefits of Annual Vaccination
Influenza is a highly contagious illness causing approximately 200,000 hospital admissions, and about 36,000 deaths per year. Pneumonia, a serious respiratory complication, accounts for over 90% of flu-related deaths. Moreover, children under the age of five, who contract the disease, are at risk of developing febrile seizures, a serious neurological condition. Annual vaccination is recommended for those individuals at greatest risk of developing serious flu-related medical complications:
- infants (six months of age and over),
- pregnant women,
- the elderly,
- individuals with respiratory, cardiac, or kidney diseases,
- Individuals with compromised immunity,
- Health care and daycare providers, and
- Primary caregivers to those at high risk
Potential Mild Side Effects
Like any other medication, the influenza vaccination does have potential side effects. The most common side effects occur at the injection site, and include redness, pain and muscle soreness. Alternatively, some individuals experience systemic side effects that include red or itchy eyes, cough, fever, and body aches.
Treating Side Effects
Recommendations to help combat vaccination-related side effects include:
- Applying a cold and wet compress to the injection site,
- Increasing fluid intake,
- Taking acetaminophen or ibuprofen (as directed) to reduce pain and fever,
- Extra rest
Many individuals feel a need to guard or protect the arm that received the vaccination. In fact, it is best to use the arm to help metabolize the medication and decrease the incidence of muscle ache and pain.
When to Contact your Doctor
Contact your doctor immediately should you experience any of the following symptoms:
- High fever
- Breathing difficulty or shortness of breath (call 911 if severe)
- Hoarseness or wheezing
- Rash or hives
The Centers of Disease Control (CDC) has reported that, although rare, serious medical conditions have been associated with viral related vaccines:
- Anaphylaxes or a life-threatening allergic reaction to the medicine.
- A serious neurological condition called Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS), characterized by fever, muscle weakness, and nerve damage.
Viral vaccines are manufactured with some impurities and may contain foreign proteins (DNA/RNA), other viral material, and of recent concern thiomersal, a mercury-containing preservative, found in multi-dose vials of the H1N1 flu vaccine. Advocates against vaccination argue that thiomersal can cause autism in young children. The amount of foreign DNA and RNA proteins contaminating these vaccines raise concerns that they may cause autoimmune-related conditions and cancer.
The debate to vaccinate (or not) is a heated one and ultimately each one of us must make an informed decision based on accurate information. Start by consulting your physician and visit the following websites for more information on the influenza vaccine:
Disclaimer: Dr. Mundorff is a Registered Nurse and Board Certified Traditional Naturopath, and not a medical doctor. The information in this column is for educational purposes only and should not be used to self-diagnose and treat diseases, nor be misinterpreted as a prescription. This information is provided with the understanding that the author is not engaging in a health-care practitioner/patient relationship with her readers. In the author's best judgment, the information and opinions expressed here are accurate and sound at the time of publication. Readers who rely on the information in this book as a replacement of the advice of a medical doctor assume all risks of such conduct. The author is not responsible for errors or omissions. Please consult your doctor before starting any alternative modalities.