Northwest NEWS

November 1, 1999

Home & Garden

Flu shots: Who should, who shouldn't get them

by Alecia McGill, special to the Weekly

   Every fall, many residents pull up their sleeve, grit their teeth, and line up for flu shots. Should you be among them?

   "The influenza vaccine, commonly known as the flu shot, should be given to people who are over sixty-five, people in a weakened state due to chronic diseases, people with a history of susceptibility and their immediate family, close contacts, and those who are likely to come into contact with those already infected with the virus," recommends Dr. Charles McGill, a family medicine specialist.

   However, among the categories of people for whom flu shots are recommended, there are individuals who should not. Among them are: people with a previous immune deficiency problem due to transplantation or the HIV virus, a current high fever (100 degrees or higher), or an allergy to eggs. (The vaccine is grown on eggs and egg proteins may be included in the injection.) The vaccine does not affect an individual's ability to donate blood, and is not a risk to the blood supply.

   Because different strains of the influenza virus spread throughout the world, flu shots are necessary before each flu season in order to be protected from the symptoms. These may include "body aches, headache, fever, chills, followed by those of a cold symptoms: runny nose and eyes, congestion, sore throat, fever, and cough. These symptoms can last one to ten days." (Center for Health Promotion, Group Health Cooperative)

   The 1998 flu season was mild, with only one case of H influenza reported to the King County Health Department, but this year the number of flu victims is expected to rise.

   A possible drawback for a minority of patients that receive the flu shot is "localized pain at the injection site, or minor flu symptoms [following the shot]. Potentially, a patient may incur an allergic reaction, in which case the patient needs to contact his primary physician," said Dr. McGill.

   Recently, a pneumonia shot has been developed and is recommended for people over sixty-five years of age and those with a history of susceptibility.

   Although people who choose not to have the influenza vaccine are more likely to catch the flu, there are things they can do to reduce their risk. Among them are: washing hands often; maintaining adequate diet, rest, and exercise; avoiding large crowds; and avoiding tobacco and exposure to second-hand smoke.

   Both the flu shot and the pneumonia shot are available through local health care providers, and often through temporary clinics set up at local grocery stores or shopping centers.

   For further information, contact your health provider or the King County Health Department at (206) 296-4949.