Every year you probably ask yourself the same thing: Should I get a flu shot this year, or should I pass it by?
It's understandable that you might feel uncertain. There's a lot of confusing information floating around out there about flu vaccines, which are available either as a shot or as a nasal spray. For instance, a recent study indicated that flu vaccines offer you only "moderate protection" from catching this season's flu. That's hardly inspiring. On the other hand, "moderate protection" is better than no protection at all, right?
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What should you do? The CDC recommends that everyone over the age of 6 months receive the flu vaccine each year, unless you are allergic to the vaccine. But even still, there's no one-size-fits-all answer.
Here are a few flu shot pros and cons to consider as you weigh what's right for you:
Flu shots can be life-saving: In the United States alone, more than 200,000 people are hospitalized for the flu every year, and about 36,000 die from causes related to the flu. The prevention a flu vaccine provides could literally save your life.
Flu shots don't cause the flu: Yes, it's true that flu vaccines contain strains of the flu virus itself, but flu shots are made with a totally inactivated form of the virus. The nasal-spray flu vaccine is made with a severely weakened form of it. Neither type of flu vaccine puts you at risk of catching the flu.
Flu shots are safer than you might think: For a long time, many parents were concerned that a preservative that had been used in vaccines, thimerosal, was linked to autism in children. Studies have shown no link between vaccines that contain thimerosal and autism -- and the study that originally sparked concern has been discredited and withdrawn. What's more, nowadays, most flu vaccines given to children in the U.S. do not contain thimerosal, and adults can request thimerosal-free vaccines as well.
Flu shots are easy to get: These days, you don't have to make a special trip to the doctor to get a flu shot. Many pharmacies will give you a shot -- without an appointment, in a jiffy, and for a very reasonable fee.
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Flu shots may not be safe for some people: If you are allergic to eggs, flu shots, which are cultivated inside of chicken eggs, may put you at risk. Be sure to consult your doctor.
Flu shots can have minor side effects: Some people develop symptoms like soreness, redness, or swelling where the shot was given; low-grade fever; or aches. These are usually pretty mild and no cause for concern, and resolve within a day or two.
Flu shots aren't a one-shot deal: Because flu viruses change each year, the vaccines are re-formulated annually to keep up. To make sure you're protected, you have to get vaccinated again every year during flu season, which generally lasts from October to May. Health experts generally recommend getting it sooner (like before December) rather than later.
Flu shots aren't 100 percent effective: A recent study found that flu shots were only about 59 percent effective in healthy adults. Your annual flu shot may protect you from this season's most dominant strains of flu, but unfortunately, it won't protect you from all the other bugs that might be floating around out there.
After weighing the pros and cons, do you plan to get a flu shot this year?
Image via USACE Europe District/Flickr
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