Flu ShotOver 36,000 Americans die and more than 200,000 are hospitalized due to the influenza virus. The World Health Organization estimates that somewhere in the neighborhood of three to five million people get serious cases of the flu each year, with 200,000 to 500,000 of those infected succumbing to the disease. Though the flu is treatable if caught within the first 48 hours of infection, getting a flu vaccination (or flu shot) is the easiest way to avoid the complications of the virus. However, there are a few things that many may find surprising about the vaccine.
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Contrary to popular belief, injectable flu vaccine cannot give the recipient the flu. The injectable vaccine does not contain live influenza. However, the newer nasal spray treatment does contain the live virus; therefore it is not advised to be used by the elderly or small children. Another surprising fact is that, while the flu shot is considered mercury (or thimerosal) free, there are still trace amounts of mercury in the vaccine. Pregnant women should be aware of this, as anything more than 25 micrograms of mercury can be dangerous for their unborn baby.
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Another fact that confuses people regards what types of flu the vaccine actually helps to prevent. The "stomach flu" is not influenza, but gastroenteritis, a common stomach virus. The flu shot will do nothing to prevent this type of illness. The flu shot is only effective against the virulent strains of influenza that seem to circulate every fall and winter. The symptoms of "swine flu", or H1N1, which the vaccine helps prevent, are cough, fever, runny nose, muscle aches, pronounced fatigue, chills and mild nausea with no vomiting.
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Educating oneself regarding the pros and cons of any medical treatment is an important part of being proactive regarding self-care. While there are groups that should certainly get flu shots every year, such as the elderly, the immunodeficient, young children and those with asthma, everyone can benefit from getting the flu vaccine. It can make for a much healthier fall and winter season, and that alone is worth going "under the needle".