NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – If you’re still unsure about whether or not to get a flu shot, Tennessee State University researchers have a message for you: Stop thinking about it, and get one. This comes as the National Centers for Disease Control (CDC) observes the first week in December as National Influenza Week.
“Most people think you get the flu, you just get sick, and you recover,” said Dr. Wendelyn Inman, TSU associate professor of Public Health, Healthcare Administration and Health Sciences. “That is true if you are relatively healthy. But it is important for us to be sure that, like in any group of people, most people are immunized so that the frail and fragile are not exposed to the flu and die from it.”
According to the CDC, people at high risk of developing flu-related complications include children younger than 5 (but especially children younger than 2 years old), adults 65 years of age and older, pregnant women, residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, and American Indians and Alaskan Natives.
One popular misconception, said Inman, who teaches Epidemiology on the undergraduate and graduate levels, is that individuals actually contract the flu as a result of taking the vaccination. She said suspicions about taking the flu shot persist because many people remain unaware that infectious diseases have an incubation period.
“Let’s say you went to a cocktail party, and you got exposed. Then you go to the pharmacist to get the prescription on Monday, and you have flu symptoms on Friday. You’re going to think you got the flu from the flu shot,” she said. “Well, actually you didn’t get the flu from getting the flu shot. You got it from someone else. It’s the timing.”
Dr. Ivan Davis, TSU director of Student Health Services, said one of the most dangerous consequences of not getting a flu shot is that it can lead to pneumonia. He said even if the vaccination does not have the same strain of the virus, taking it usually makes the illness much milder. Instead of being five to seven days and protracted, he said the illness is “shortened by several days.”
Davis said it takes about four weeks for the immunity from the shot to “kick-in.” He said people are unable to get the illness from the vaccine because it contains a dead virus.
“The vaccination uses the genome, the nucleus of the virus, so there is no way you can get the flu from the shot. It’s not a live virus,” he said. “Even if you come down with a different strain, it has been proven that because you have had the shot, your chance of having a real bad infection is lessened.”
The exact timing and duration of flu season can vary extending from October through May, but most peak between December and February, according to the CDC. In 2005, the agency designated the first full week in December to highlight the importance of continuing flu vaccination through the holiday season and beyond. This year the center recommends that only injectable flu vaccines be given.
Inman said the changing nature of the virus is another reason she stresses taking the flu shot.
“To me it’s too big of a gamble to take for your health because each year the virus changes and the severity is different. No one can verify that this is a mild version and not the killer version that swept through in 1918,” she added.
According to health experts, in 1918 the flu pandemic killed an estimated 500 million people worldwide including about 675,000 Americans.
“Any immunization keeps anything you catch from being as bad because it jumpstarts your immune system,” Inman said. “You’ll be safer and less sorry if you get the flu shot.”
The Tennessee Department of Health reports that the highest number of flu cases in Tennessee are typically recorded in January and February each year.
For more information about where you can get the flu shot in Tennessee, visit http://tn.gov/health/topic/localdepartments.
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With more than 8,000 students, Tennessee State University is Nashville’s only public university, and is a comprehensive, urban, co-educational, land-grant university offering 38 bachelor’s degree programs, 25 master’s degree programs and seven doctoral degrees. TSU has earned a top 20 ranking for Historically Black Colleges and Universities according to U.S. News and World Report, and rated as one of the top universities in the country by Washington Monthly for social mobility, research and community service. Founded in 1912, Tennessee State University celebrated 100 years in Nashville during 2012. Visit the University online at tnstate.edu.