An inside perspective of health care and life as a physician, from Pure Family Medicine

The Flu and You

August 29, 2019

Flu season will be upon us soon.  After the brutal 2017-2018 flu season, last year's season was quite a bit milder.  Part of the reason for that is an increase in the number of people vaccinated, and a more effective flu vaccine.  Some statistics for you:

  • Last year, about 47% of people received the flu vaccine as of November, an increase in 7% from the previous year.
  • The 2018-2019 flu vaccine was about 7% more effective than the previous year's vaccine.
  • 2017-2018 Stats - 48.8 million illnesses, 959,000 hospitalizations, 79,400 deaths
  • 2018-2019 Stats - 42.9 million illnesses, 647,000 hospitalizations, 61,200 deaths

While there are certainly a number of factors at play that determine the severity of the flu season, an increase in vaccination rates and effectiveness of just 7% decreased hospitalizations by 32% and deaths by 23%.  Taking a look back to the deadliest flu season in recorded history, the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, there were 675,000 deaths in America due to the flu.  Statistics and research show that the flu vaccine helps, a lot.

I recognize that nobody wants to get a shot, and I also recognize that any vaccine comes with risks.  But the risks of getting and having complications from the flu are exponentially higher than the risk of rare vaccine reactions.  I will never forget my first ICU rotation in medical school taking care of a (previously healthy) 29 year old who had complications from influenza.  He died.  His family was devastated.  I was devastated.  I remember thinking, what if he had gotten his flu shot?  What if he just forgot, got too busy, or was just on the fence and chose not to?  What if his work had offered the vaccine, what if he happened to walk into the pharmacy for something else and they offered the vaccine?  What if?

Unfortunately despite the science behind vaccines and the statistics proving that vaccines save lives, flu vaccine rates are typically below 50%.  So let me reassure you of a few things if you are on the fence…

  • The flu shot cannot cause the flu.  It is an inactivated virus.  Is it possible to feel fatigued or run down due to your immune system mounting a response (aka it’s working)?  Yes.  Is possible that you catch a virus after the flu shot that makes you think it is the flu?  Yes… because there are a million viruses this time of year.  Is it possible you actually get the flu shortly after the shot because you were exposed before the vaccine had time to work?  Yup, absolutely.  But I can guarantee you the flu shot will not give you the flu.
  • Just because you are healthy does not mean you are invincible.  Healthy people die from influenza too.
  • Even if the strain isn’t perfect, the flu shot still offers you protection.  People who get the flu and have gotten the flu shot have lower rates of complications and shorter, less severe symptoms.
  • Finally, by vaccinating yourself, you are protecting those who cannot be vaccinated, like infants for example.  The more people that are vaccinated, the less the flu spreads in the community.  You getting a vaccine can literally save someone else’s life.

If you are still unsure, please at least talk to your doctor about the flu vaccine, at least start that conversation.  Thanks for reading, have great day and stay healthy!

Rebecca Bub, DO
Rebecca Bub is a board certified family physician, the proud owner of Pure Family Medicine, and is on a mission to change the way people get health care, one patient at a time. In her spare time she enjoys chasing her three young kids around, spending time hiking and cycling, and living vicariously through her friend's social lives online.

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