Will YOU get the flu this year ???

Did you know that in an average year, some experts tell us that there are roughly 36,000 DEATHS from the flu? The number varies a lot, but between 1976 and 2007, it ranged from a low of about 3,000 to a high of 49,000 people in the United States alone. This is shocking, but true (visit http://www.cdc.gov/flu/keyfacts.htm).

The remarkable thing about this statistic is that the flu can be largely PREVENTED if you take the time to get a flu shot each year. Don't just sit there smiling, thinking you will be immune.

The remarkable thing is that the flu shots are already decided for this year and the FDA made the announcement. The six companies who will make flu shots this year are:

GlaxoSmithKline (makers of Fluarix), CSL Limited (makers of Afluria), ID Biomedical Corp (makers of FluLaval), Medimmune Vaccines (makers of FluMist), Sanofi (makers of Fluzone, Fluzone High-dose and Fluzone Intradermal) and Novartis (makers of Fluvirin). The vaccine this year will have a mixture of three strains that are considered most likely to cause problems. A/California/7/09-H1N1, A/PerthH3N2 and B/Brisbane/60/2008-like virus. MedImmune alone expects to ship between 15 and 16 million doses. Interestingly, the FluMist nasal spray has already been started to be shipped. Getting a Flu shot or nasal spray as early as late in the summer helps protect you and your family against influenza (flu) all season long.

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) started recommending flu vaccine EVERY YEAR for everyone except babies who are younger than 6 months and people and those with certain medical conditions and allergies (talk to your doctor). The reason for this is that generally, the strains of influenza which cause the flu change each year and the protection conferred by the vaccine only lasts for the flu season.

The options this flu season include a high-dose for those over 65 (to help make sure that you get a beneficial response to the vaccine), the flu nasal spray, the usual shot in the muscle (vaccine) AND a new Fluzone variety from Sanofi. The Sanofi vaccine is newly approved from last year and is actually given into the skin (intradermal) instead of into the muscle. For Fluzone Intradermal, a very very small needle is used and what you will see is a small “bump” of vaccine just under the skin. The bump will be absorbed and your body will go to work developing antibodies to the viruses in the shot. This approach is available for people 18 to 64 years old.

As usual, there have been many emails asking us about “getting the flu from a flu shot”. What you certainly can have is a few days of aches and relative weakness and some pain where the shot (if you choose this option) is given. Talk to your doctor about preventing this discomfort using acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) if you don’t have any problems (contraindications) to that. The label says you can take 650 mg every 4-6 hours of the regular release form of this medicine if needed, but no more than 4,000 mg a day. Some clinicians now recommend FOR ADULTS, a maximum of 325 mg of acetaminophen per dose as often every 4 hours, and to keep the maximum daily dose less than 2,000 mg if needed.

Remember that there was some controversy about taking lower doses of this medicine and a maximum of no more than 4,000 mg a day in 2010. If you drink alcohol, the daily maximum is lower still with some clinicians limiting the total daily dose to 2,000 mg or even less. The package for the extended release says 1300 mg every 8 hours if needed and no more than 3900 mg a day, but again, some clinicians are recommending much lower than that.

Remember, there are more than 600 prescription and non-prescription products that have acetaminophen in them. Add up the total to stay below the total daily recommended dose if you need to take that. Taking a reasonable amount of acetaminophen for a couple of days (talk to your doctor) to prevent aches and pains of a flu shot may make sense for you. ALWAYS look to a dosing chart and confer with your pharmacist for dosing in children. The FDA has a strong summary athttp://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm263989.htm

Preventing the flu and possible aches and pains from a shot can be a simple matter. While you are getting a flu shot, make sure you also ask if a pneumococcal vaccine makes sense.

If you do get the flu, remember that you can pass the flu on to someone else. Healthy adults generally can infect other people a day before they even have symptoms and for about 5-7 days after symptoms develop. Children or those with damaged immune systems can actually infect other people for longer than that. All the more reason to get a flu shot if you, your doctor and pharmacist think it makes sense. Many pharmacies (for example, the Walgreens that I go to) now give flu shots, making the vaccine easier than ever to get.

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