Compared to the, 36,000 deaths from Influenza that occurred in 2013, the nationwide panic about Ebola is drastically overrated. We should be much more concerned by the fact that less than 50 percent of adults receive the influenza vaccine. This is a national scandal! Some say every time they receive a flu shot they develop the flu. While a mild fever may occur, true flu will never occur, as the injected influenza strains are dead. Understand that flu presents with very high fever, severe fatigue, generalized muscle pain, sore throat that almost always leads to days off work and an illness you never hope to have again. 

These days it could not be easier as the vaccine is now routinely given at your neighborhood pharmacy. Who knows whether this flu season will be mild or more severe? There is always the possibility that a rapid outbreak of an unusual strain of the influenza virus can lead to millions of cases of infection, a great deal of suffering and many deaths. 

A vaccination is required annually, as each year the influenza viruses included in the vaccination changes. Every February a committee of the World Health Organization determines which of the numerous strains of the virus are likely to cause the most infections. As the flu is predominantly an illness that occurs during the winter, epidemiologists track which viruses are causing the most havoc in the southern hemisphere. As winter approaches, the viruses march northward and can always lead to serious illness, particularly in those who have not been vaccinated. Currently each vaccine provides protection against three strains of virus (trivalent vaccine) but in the near future a new vaccine that protects against four different strains should become available.

So should we all be vaccinated? The CDC recommends that everyone aged 6 months and older receive yearly vaccinations. And if for any reason supplies are limited, it is critical that the vaccine be given to those at the highest risk including children aged 6 months to 4 years, pregnant women, anyone over aged 50, those with severe lung disease, a suppressed immune system, morbid obesity or who are diabetic. Anyone under the age 18 taking aspirin must be vaccinated, as they are more prone to develop a serious complication from influenza called Reye Syndrome. Every nursing home patient should be vaccinated, as should all health care providers, caregivers or workers who come in frequent contact with young children or older persons. 

Children between the ages of 2 and 8 can receive a nasal spray instead of an injection. And for those over the age of 65 or for those with the greatest difficulty fighting infections, a high dose flu shot should be considered. Called Fluzone HD, this vaccine contains four times as much antigen (a protein in the virus that stimulates the immune system to produce antibodies). Research has shown that that high dose vaccine is as safe as the regular kind but leads to a much more robust immune response in those over the age of 65. The experience with this vaccine is still insufficient to determine if the higher dose provides a greater protection against developing a severe infection. The CDC emphasizes that the high dose vaccine should not be used in anyone under the age of 65. Some elect to receive the influenza vaccination as a nasal spray. This form should not be used in children between the age of 6 and 23 months or in adults over the age of 50.

If you have not had it already, get your flu shot as soon as possible. A doctor’s prescription is not needed and, whether receiving the vaccination from a pharmacist or another health care provider, enquire about other vaccines that should be given. The evidence is compelling that vaccination is the most critical way to prevent serious complications from influenza. Remember that if you are young and healthy and become infected, not only will your symptoms be significant, but spreading the virus to everyone around you may lead to life-threatening infection in someone much more susceptible than you.

Dr. David Lipschitz is the director of the Dr. David Health and Wellness Center in Little Rock. To find out more about Dr. David Lipschitz, visit