Can I Interest You in a Flu Shot?

“Dr. Weizman, let me ask you something, do you get a flu shot?” “What about your kids, do your daughters get flu shots?”  These are two questions that I seem to hear pretty often come September and October each year.  The answer of course to both questions is a resounding “you betcha”.  There is simply no reason (in my mind) NOT to get a flu shot if you are over 6 months of age (unless of course you have a proven allergy to the vaccine or its specific preservatives and ingredients). Flu shots are very safe, they barely hurt (for you needle-phobes out there) and guess what?  Flu shots work, Period.  And here’s proof (albeit anecdotal proof from this particular doctor).

I have been doctoring for 13 years now, and have gotten the flu shot every year.  In spite of repeated exposures to very sick, coughing patients with active flu infection, literally hundreds of times each flu season, I have never contracted the flu – oh, except once.  It was during the 2003-2004 flu season when the dreaded “Fiji strain” of influenza infected adults and children all over the USA in record numbers.  In case you missed the headlines back then, many people (particularly children) died of their infections and subsequent complications.

Unfortunately, as some of you may remember, the scientists who determined which strains went into that year’s flu vaccine got it wrong.  That does happen some years, but far less often than the number of years where those same scientists get it right.  Incidentally, in recent years they seem to be getting better and better at picking the right strains.

To make matters worse, that year I had a newborn at home (my first), and I inadvertently infected her with this Fiji strain of influenza – in spite of trying to avoid contact with her when I was at my sickest.  To say that my wife (also a Physician) and I were both “freaked out” at that point would be a colossal understatement.  Thank goodness my wife had gotten the flu vaccine herself that year, and probably due to a healthy dose of antibody protection through her breast milk, my 2-month old daughter had only a mild case and did just fine.  For that matter, even though I was sickened with the flu, my illness lasted only about 4 days, as compared to the typical 7-10 days of infection – likely due to the partial immunity I received from my flu vaccine.  The only redeeming aspect of this whole ordeal I must say was that I can now better relate to my patients when they talk about fever induced delirium and the deep body aches associated with the flu.

I share this story for obvious reasons.  But hey, don’t take my word for it.  Take it from the hundreds of patients of mine who have come down with the flu over the years.  They come in to the office looking like…. well you know, ….. hmmm, how to put it…, let’s just say – terrible.  They have missed work, their kids have missed school, they’re utterly miserable (particularly when the whole family gets it), and to add insult to injury, often when it’s really bad they have to come up with lots of money to pay for expensive medications that treat the flu.  During these sick visits I must admit that it is quite common for my patients to say, “so doc, this could have been prevented with a flu shot huh?”  And you know what I say in return?  You guessed it, I just say “you betcha”.

If there was ever an appropriate use for the age-old cliché – “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”, it would be when talking about the simple flu shot.

Our Family Doctor patients are encouraged to ask for a flu shot this year for themselves and for their family members.  We have special walk in flu clinics designed for a quick stop by, but you are welcome to receive your shots during your regularly scheduled visits as well.