The Allergist Says...

Influenza is associated with 20,000-40,000 deaths, up to 300,000 hospitalizations, and countless sick days every year. Influenza vaccines are available, but not everyone feels comfortable with the idea. Which of these statements do you agree with?

  • "Influenza vaccine is not safe during pregnancy."
  • "Flu vaccine can give you the flu."
  • "I had the flu shot and still got the flu."

Influenza infections occur early to mid-October, and continue through May. Children, individuals with chronic disease (including asthma), and the elderly are disproportionately at risk for illness and death. New influenza vaccines must be manufactured each year. Injectable influenza vaccines are highly purified, containing only noninfectious inactivated viruses that cannot cause influenza. Side effects are nearly always mild, and immediate allergic reactions rarely occur.

While the optimal time for vaccination is in October and November, the vaccine should be given throughout the influenza season when available. This vaccine is safe and efficacious and without severe adverse reactions, even in asthmatics. Allergy to chicken eggs and sensitivity to thimerosal are contraindications, although persons at high risk for complications of influenza benefit from vaccination after appropriate allergy evaluation. This year officials reccomend the influenza vaccine to healthy children aged 6-59 months, their household contacts and their out-of-home caregivers.

And what if you already have the flu? Antiviral agents have been developed and approved for prevention and treatment of seasonal influenza but should be started within 2 days of the onset of illness.

Now, about those questions -- they're all myths:

  • "Influenza vaccine is not safe during pregnancy."
    Injected influenza vaccine is in fact recommended during pregnancy.
  • "Flu vaccine can give you the flu."
    It is impossible to contract influenza from the injectable vaccine because it is composed of inactivated viral particles. Influenza infection has not been reported with the Flu Mist, even though it is a live, attenuated vaccine.
  • "I had the flu shot and still got the flu."
    The vaccines are 70-90% effective against significant illness from the flu. Recipients may still contract a mild form of the flu or other viral illnesses.

Armed with this knowledge, we hope to see you in our offices for a flu vaccine soon!