Vaccines: What to Know

Each year, more than 200,000 people in the United States are admitted to the hospital after contracting the influenza virus. Approximately 49,000 Americans die because of flu-related complications. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a three-step process to prevent the spread of the disease and reduce the number of doctor visits.

As Benjamin Franklin opined, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” The first step is to avoid or limit contact with those who are already sick. Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze. You should also regularly wash your hands with soap and water or use an alcohol-based sanitizer. If you feel sick, stay home for at least 24 hours except to seek medical attention. The second step is to take any antiviral drugs that your health care professional prescribes. In addition to making the illness milder and shorter, these antiviral medications can prevent future complications, especially in individuals who have asthma, diabetes and chronic heart disease.

The third step is to get an annual flu shot. The CDC recommends that everyone over the age of six months be vaccinated. Exceptions include individuals with a history of Guillain-Barre syndrome and those who have previously experienced a life-threatening adverse reaction after being immunized. The vaccine will not prevent the flu if you h

ave already been exposed to the virus. Administered annually, the vaccine is based on the type of influenza virus that research suggests will be the most prevalent that year. You can still get the flu after being vaccinated if you are infected by a different flu strain. A thimerosal-free version of the vaccine is available for those concerned about the use of mercury as a preservative. If you are allergic to eggs, request an egg-free vaccine to avoid the risk of an anaphylactic reaction.

Soreness at the injection site is a common side effect that can persist for two days. You can take steps to reduce the soreness. Ask the health care provider to administer the shot in your non-dominate arm. Before the shot, apply a cool compress at the injection site, relax and let your arm hang as loose as possible. After the shot, apply a warm compress. Keep moving your arm to increase blood flow to the area, reduce the stiffness and encourage the healing process. Take an over-the-counter pain medication if necessary.

The flu shot and other vaccinations are a normal part of a child’s routine medical care. You can take steps to help your child if he or she is apprehensive about the flu shot. Breast or bottle a younger children. You should try to distract toddlers and older children. Ask your heath care professional about applying a topical anesthetic cream before the shot. You should also remain as calm as possible so that your child does not sense your apprehension. You can also request the nasal flu vaccine. The CDC has approved the medication for children ages 2 to 8.

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