Either really lucky or really healthy
September 7, 2009 4:34 PM   Subscribe

I've never had a flu vaccine. But -- I've also never had the flu, either. Am I safe continuing to skip the vaccine for a while longer?

No, mean it -- I have never, ever had the flu. Not once. For a while I thought I may have, because I have had very quick "a little achy and queasy for about a day" kinds of things now and then, but when I've told people that they just laugh and say "oh, honey, that was NOT the flu, trust me."

I also haven't ever gotten flu vaccinations, because I am a big chicken when it comes to needles. So I've always crossed my fingers and went without -- and never had the flu.

So either I have the immunity of The Very Gods or I've been very, very lucky. But I'm wondering just how much I can tempt fate. What's making me also reconsider is a) the swine flu, and b) the fact that I now have a year-old niece. But I see her very infrequently (she's 3 states away and I don't have a car, so I only have seen her on major holidays).

That said: all things being equal, I know I should get it. But again -- big chicken when it comes to needles. Am I safe skipping it again this year?
posted by EmpressCallipygos to Health & Fitness (57 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
I tried to get a flu vaccine a few years ago, and the guy at the pharmacy shooed me away after learning I'm not chronicly ill, I don't have children and I don't work with children.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 4:48 PM on September 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Well, it's a risk you run every year when you aren't vaccinated. Did you know they do a mist thing for the seasonal flu? I got vaccinated last week with a little spray up each nostril. I don't know if that will be available for swine flu, but there's no reason not to get vaccinated for the regular stuff. Why get sick when you can give yourself even better odds for $25?
posted by parkerjackson at 4:48 PM on September 7, 2009


You can skip the vaccine. If you're relatively young and healthy it's unlikely that even the swin flu would kill you or even make you truly sick. So you're probably good.

Oh, but by the way, do you ever ride the subway on the same car as someone who visits an elderly grandmother? Do any of your coworkers have infants at home? Does one of your friends have a relative on chemo? Do you ever use the same phone at the office as someone whose best friend has a workout buddy with respiratory issues? If so, it's probably a good idea to get the vaccine unless you have some real (better than "why bother?" or "needles make me nervous") reason not to.

As discussed in the thread on the non-vaccinated kids, the benefit of being vaccinated is not only to you, it's to everyone around you, and you in turn benefit from all the vaccinated people around you. It's not right to choose to benefit from those people without contributing any benefit yourself. It's reckless to consider only your safety and not think about your effect on the safety of others.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 4:49 PM on September 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


TPS- a few years ago there was a shortage of vaccines because of a miscalculation on which strains would be big. I've never been shooed away any other year.
posted by parkerjackson at 4:49 PM on September 7, 2009


Vitamin D is more effective at protecting you from the flu than a vaccine. I take cod liver oil.
posted by torquemaniac at 5:06 PM on September 7, 2009


Vitamin D is more effective at protecting you from the flu than a vaccine.

Cite, please? Seriously, I'm interested. Also welcome if available, cites on the compbined effectiveness of vaccine + vitamin D.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 5:08 PM on September 7, 2009


I was in the "I don't need/want a flu shot" camp for so long. Until I did get the flu in January of 2008 and it knocked me on my ass for almost 2 weeks as it turned into pneumonia. And even after that, I was off for a week or so. Absolutely miserable.

Last year, I got the flu shot. I've already arranged to have the flu shot when I see my doctor in 2 weeks and inquired about the H1N1 vaccine too.
posted by jerseygirl at 5:31 PM on September 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Also, prior to 2008, I don't think I had the flu in probably more than 2 decades. All it takes is one "hero" to come to work when they are sick...
posted by jerseygirl at 5:33 PM on September 7, 2009


I'm a big believer in not getting vaccinnations you don't need and not taking medicine unless you're really sick. If you're healthy and aren't surrounded by people who could get the flu, I say take your chances. You can't prevent everything - you can get the flu vaccine and then fall down the stairs and break your leg that same day. Just keep doing what you're doing, take some vitamins (or eat lots of fruits and veggies) and exercise.
posted by KateHasQuestions at 5:33 PM on September 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


Besides your niece, are you around kids (0-18) frequently? Do you live or work on a university campus? Take mass transit? Work in an office where you're interacting with a number of coworkers? Have a shared kitchen in your office that isn't cleaned frequently? Don't bother to wash your hands frequently (as in before meals and after using the toilet)?

If you can answer yes to any of the above, then you're at risk of getting the flu (or pretty much any rhinovirus, for that matter).

Now, are you pregnant? Have a chronic lung disease or recently had a lung condition like pneumonia? Is your health worse than what you'd call "fair?" Have any disease that affects the immune system? Have a transplanted organ that requires you to take immunosuppressants?

If you can answer yes to any of these, you are at risk of being hospitalized or dying from the flu. Most all the deaths from the flu have been in from these groups of people. (Keep in mind, though, that the death rate from H1N1 isn't that much worse than the H2N3 that previously was the prevalent flu.

If you're in the second group, you need to get the vaccine. If not, then you should look at whether you have a lot of yeses to the items in the first group or not. If you have a lot of them, I'd get the vaccine IF you want to avoid the flu. If you only have a few, you could probably get away with not having the vaccine.

All that said, the current flus running around (including H1N1) are unlikely to do much more to you than knock you on your back for a week. About 1 in 1000 will get something secondary from the flu, e.g. an opportunistic infection like pneumonia, and that's when you may end up hospitalized.

If you're willing to gamble on feeling absolutely miserable for a few days this year, then you can skip the vaccine.

But if you do get sick, please, please, please STAY HOME. Find yourself some books and movies and pain relievers and sit it out. It's the people who just try to power through their flu that are the problem, spewing the virus on anyone who comes in contact with them.
posted by dw at 5:36 PM on September 7, 2009


And since you've never had the flu, I should be clear about "absolutely miserable" means:

Fever in the 100s
Chills
Sore throat
Sneezing
Coughing
Aching (esp. aching in joints)
Feeling like death warmed over

And this will run for 3-7 days. If you get an opportunistic pneumonia behind it, well, you'll really feel miserable. Like, can't breathe, no energy, taking giant horse pill antibiotics, barely wanting to get out of bed. And that's another week or more, assuming you pull out of it, and even then you'll still find your lung capacity diminished for up to six months afterwards. (I speak from experience -- had pneumonia earlier this year, and I only really felt "normal" again last month, six months after I came down with it.)

The list of symptoms is identical for all the main flu viruses. So, whether you get "regular ol' flu" or "swine flu" you'll have the same misery. The main issue with H1N1 is that we currently have no immunity to it since this generation hasn't been exposed to it, so that increases your risk of contracting it.
posted by dw at 5:46 PM on September 7, 2009


No, mean it -- I have never, ever had the flu. Not once. For a while I thought I may have, because I have had very quick "a little achy and queasy for about a day" kinds of things now and then, but when I've told people that they just laugh and say "oh, honey, that was NOT the flu, trust me."

I'm pretty sure that mild cases of the flu are possible, why wouldn't they be? Maybe you just have a particularly strong immune system or something.
posted by delmoi at 6:04 PM on September 7, 2009


Also to note, I've noticed that somehow, needles they use today are virtually painless. It could be the folks poking me with 'em are skilled, but I've only had one painful shot/shots that I can recall recently, and that was for a rabies vaccination (last one this Thursday - woot!).

It might be a time where you can start overcoming your fear of needles, especially when you turn to the doc/nurse and go, "That's it?!"
posted by Atreides at 6:09 PM on September 7, 2009


I've never had a flu shot and I've had the flu twice in my lifetime. Once as a small child (got it from my mom) and once at 15 (high school). If you're not around kids much, probably no need.

My mother, who has MS, tends to get flu shots each year and more than once, that has turned into a mild case of flu since the vaccine is a weakened form of the strain of the virus experts feel will be most prevalent that year.

In addition to getting mildly sick from the vaccine, you could be exposed to an entirely different strain and get the flu from that, so it has its limits. And something else entirely might get you. I spent three weeks between Dec '07 and Jan '08 in my house laid up with four different infections at once. I actually thought it was the flu initially.
posted by cmgonzalez at 6:15 PM on September 7, 2009


Some follow-up data points:

* "if you're young and healthy"....well, I don't know if you'd call "a few months from 40" young as such. But I do tend to be disease-resistant as a general rule, I eat well, and I am in decent shape.

* No worries, dw, I definitely stay home when I'm sick. Especially if I'm as sick as that sounds like. When I was a kid, my father once observed that I didn't get sick often, but "when [I] did, it was a doozy." He's right -- I don't get that sick often (maybe once every couple years), but when I do, it's nasty enough that it is absolutely no question about the fact that "I should not leave the house for the love of God".

* I take mass transit, but my job situation is in flux -- I'm a temp. Right NOW I'm working in an office at a university, but next month, it could be in a bank. I do take mass transit. I am NOT exposed to any young children on a regular basis -- my niece is the only child in my orbit these days, and it looks likely that after I attend her first birthday in two weeks, I won't see her until Christmas. And maybe not even then (they may visit her mom's family instead).

* parkerjackson: that up-the-nose mist thing is intriguing. How can I check whether my doctor would have that? That would solve everything.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:29 PM on September 7, 2009


Vitamin D is more effective at protecting you from the flu than a vaccine.

This is 100% grade-A horsepuckey. Please don't do this.

OP: I never got a flu vaccine either. I had never had the flu, after all. Well, maybe as a little kid or something, but not as a teenager or adult. A couple years ago I figured I might as well start... except it was likely the same year as ThePinkSuperhero. There was supposed to be a flu vaccine shortage so they told me to let the old people have it.

I got the flu that year. It was one of the worse weeks of my adult life. The only two other times that were comparable put me in the hospital emergency room. It was awful. Worse part? They didn't actually have a vaccine shortage. Two months later it was all "hey, we have tons of vaccine left over".

So now I get a flu vaccine. Every year. It's just not worth it. Really, it's not. And from now on I don't care if they say to say there might be a vaccine shortage; I could have croaked and there was plenty of vaccine to go around.

I'm pretty sure that mild cases of the flu are possible, why wouldn't they be?

They are, but "a little queasy" isn't a mild case of the flu. Since flu generally doesn't make you queasy. Even if it did, a "mild" case of the flu is still a lot worse than a cold, and a little queasy and a little achey is mild even for a cold.

If you're willing to gamble on feeling absolutely miserable for a few days this year, then you can skip the vaccine.

Well, as you yourself point out there is a non-trivial risk of it being worse than "feeling absolutely miserable". Being sick, very young, or over 50 makes this chance worse but people can and do die from the flu at every age.

I'm a big proponent of getting the flu vaccine. Why wouldn't you? (Ok, I understand you have a fear of needles so I suppose that's a little rhetorical). It protects you and, more important, it protects other people because you won't catch the flu and then spread it around to others.

Look at it as part of being a responsible member of civil society. There is almost no downside and quite a lot of upside. It's a really good idea. Doooo it.

(on preview)

My mother, who has MS, tends to get flu shots each year and more than once, that has turned into a mild case of flu since the vaccine is a weakened form of the strain of the virus experts feel will be most prevalent that year.

Again, 100% pure horsepuckey. Please do not spread misinformation like this! Flu shots do not contain a weakened live virus. They just don't. This isn't an opinion, it's a cold hard fact. You can not get the flu from a flu shot. You can't. I don't know how else to say it: You just can't get the flu from a flu shot.

(note: there are inhaled live virus vaccines. They tend to be for things like vaccinating soldiers in the military. But you know that's what you're getting because, well, you inhale it instead of it being injected.
posted by Justinian at 6:30 PM on September 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


You can read up on the nasal vaccine here.
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:32 PM on September 7, 2009


* parkerjackson: that up-the-nose mist thing is intriguing. How can I check whether my doctor would have that? That would solve everything.

Since I just came down on someone claiming that the flu shot was live vaccine, let me emphasize that what you're asking about (the inhaled vaccine) might actually be attenuated live vaccine. Since you seem to have a robust immune system I suspect you could inhale that with no problem, but be aware that it is a weakened live virus and not a dead virus like the flu shot.

Personally, I'd choose the flu shot every time. But I am not afraid of needles so that makes a big difference.
posted by Justinian at 6:32 PM on September 7, 2009


I felt about as you do about vaccines (I can tolerate needles but just don't want unnecessary shots) but last year I got the Flu from Hell. It took me over a month to feel myself again.

Honestly, if I were in your shoes I'd check out the up-the-nose vaccine since you don't like needles-but regardless, at least consider getting a shot. I certainly am this time.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:49 PM on September 7, 2009


Please don't put words in my mouth. I said virus, not "live" virus. The vaccine does in fact contain viral material meant to stimulate immunity. And people do sometimes get sick after vaccines. Thank you.
posted by cmgonzalez at 6:55 PM on September 7, 2009


I didn't put words in your mouth: You said you can get the flu from a flu shot. Since the only possible way to get the flu from a vaccine would be if the vaccine contained live virus, well, it is nonsensical for you to say that you know it contains no live virus but can still cause the flu.

It says "you cannot get the flu from a flu shot" from the very page you just linked to. People do not sometimes get the flu after a flu shot which is precisely what you claimed.
posted by Justinian at 7:22 PM on September 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


Point of information: in 2000, my (now) wife got vaccinated for flu and ended up requiring two months of frequent medical attention, starting with her doctor drawing a circle (with a Sharpie) around the week-old injection site and telling her that if the inflammation went past the line to go to the emergency room.

Naturally, the timely flu vaccinations aren't vetted as well as most other vaccinations. Only you can decide if it's worth it.
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:37 PM on September 7, 2009


Empress,

I have a healthy fear of needles; I either pass out or cry hysterically when it's time for me to have blood taken or be given a shot (in a panic once, I hit the doctor because he foolishly surprised me with the needle). Because of this, I've never had a voluntary vaccination and most likely never will.

I've talked to co-workers (I do project work in NYC) and each one who has had the vaccine in past years has gotten sick. Those who have never had the vaccine haven't gotten sick. My sample size is small: fifteen team members, so YMMV.

This year I'll take my chances again and go without. I eat well, exercise moderately, try to mitigate stress, etc. (and, like you, I'm closer to 40 than I am to 30).

For the needle thing, btw, I've found that giving another creature daily injections kind of helps with the fear (the cat with kidney failure gets daily sub-cutaneous fluids). Of course, I usually end up having a panic attack later in the night... okay, so it actually isn't helpful at all.
posted by LOLAttorney2009 at 7:44 PM on September 7, 2009


Getting the flu shot costs you nothing or next to nothing. Not getting it could mean missing a week or more of work, which is a huge pain, being really, really miserable that whole time, which is a huge pain, or worse, passing on the flu to someone who it might kill - an old person you interact with on the street, a baby your co-worker brings to the office, who knows? The chances of the latter happening are small, but why not get it? While you may be safe in not getting it, you might be putting people around you, or the people around them, at needless risk.

Also, if they do get the swine flu vaccine out this year, I would get it, because swine flu is occasionally killing young, healthy people, just the sort who are not normally in danger from the regular flu.
posted by Dasein at 7:44 PM on September 7, 2009


"if you're young and healthy"....well, I don't know if you'd call "a few months from 40" young as such. But I do tend to be disease-resistant as a general rule, I eat well, and I am in decent shape.

I was in decent shape too until this year -- rarely ever sick, maybe one major cold every 5-7 years. I'm a few years from 40.

I take mass transit, but my job situation is in flux -- I'm a temp.

That's another one for getting the vaccine. You could find yourself interacting with the public heavily at your next position.

Many insurance plans cover the vaccine. My insurance urges people to get the vaccine and will pay for you to get it. Check with your provider to see if they will. Even if they don't, it's $10-20 at most pharmacies. The mist version I think is a little more, and I can't remember if its efficacy is that high or not.

In your situation, I'd strongly consider getting the vaccine. And yes, the needles are smaller than the ones they used on us in childhood. Usually all I get is a pinch or a sting.
posted by dw at 8:02 PM on September 7, 2009


I'd worry more about giving the flu to a one-year-old than getting it from a one-year-old. You're a lot more capable of fighting it than she is.

My children's pediatrician gives them the FluMist because it offers a broader protection, for a longer time. Neither of them has had any ill effects from it.

As Justinian says, "Doooo it."
posted by palliser at 8:07 PM on September 7, 2009


I've never had the nasal-spray vaccine, but I've had plenty of intra-muscular shots, and they are no big deal. The trick is to not look at the needle at all. The last nurse who did it stabbed me so quickly it was over before I realized what she was doing!
posted by radioamy at 8:08 PM on September 7, 2009


Naturally, the timely flu vaccinations aren't vetted as well as most other vaccinations.

Actually, they're vetted just like every other vaccine. The issues you ran into could have been anything from poor sterilization of the injection site to just some random reaction to the vaccine.

I've talked to co-workers (I do project work in NYC) and each one who has had the vaccine in past years has gotten sick. Those who have never had the vaccine haven't gotten sick. My sample size is small: fifteen team members, so YMMV.

That could be chance. But it could also be due to how the vaccine is created.

In the summer, the CDC, WHO, and drug companies look at what strains were going around the Northern Hemisphere in the spring and in the Southern Hemisphere at the time (i.e. their winter). They pick which versions of the flu virus they think are most likely to be the ones to infect people in the coming winter, and those viruses are grown in chicken eggs that summer, killed, and their genetic remains loaded up into millions of vaccine doses for distribution that fall.

A few times in the recent past, their predictions have been wrong, and the vaccine doesn't cover the prevalent flu that winter. It's a shotgun approach, and sometimes it misses.

Most of the time it does protect from the varieties that are going around, though.

One thing I forgot to mention: The best way you can prevent getting flu besides a vaccine is hand sanitation that would border on OCD. Wash your hands before meals. Wash your hands after you go to the bathroom. Wash with plenty of soap and warm to hot water. Use that alcohol gel on them. Wipe down doorknobs and other frequently used surfaces with disinfectant regularly. When you cough or sneeze, do it into the crook of your elbow, not into your hand.
posted by dw at 8:15 PM on September 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Never having had the flu doesn't mean that you'll never get the flu, especially living as we do in New York. This is, like, a Darwinian Ground Zero for germs. You know the saying "if you can make it here, you'll make it anywhere?" If a germ can make it here, it can knock just about anybody on his or her ass.

I'd get a flu shot if I were you.
posted by jason's_planet at 8:16 PM on September 7, 2009


It's a strange thing. I've never had a flu shot, yet I haven't had the flu in over 25 years, and I only had it once. I can't remember the last time I even had a cold. For years I worked in social services surrounded by homeless families, and I've attended and taught in universities surrounded by all kinds of people from many different places, yet when colds and the flu swept these places, I didn't become ill. Currently I live with people who work in hospitals and I've yet to catch the cold, flu or sinus infections they've brought home (and they've each been sick twice since May!) I don't plan to get a flu shot unless my health is already compromised in some other way.
posted by Piscean at 8:52 PM on September 7, 2009


There are lots of good reasons to get the flu shot, and quite a few reasons not to, especially if you listen to anecdotes. There will always be bad reactions like Mayor Curley's wife had*. I guess I'm a bit of a Vulcan because I just look at the pros and cons and if the pros outweigh the cons I do something.

Thus, I always get a flu shot.

*There will also be bad reactions like my ex-boyfriend had in New zealand a couple of months ago. He was immunocompromised, forgot to get his flu shot and died. Just to put my 2c of fearmongering in for the other team
posted by gaspode at 8:58 PM on September 7, 2009


I struggle on this one to balance my respect for medicine with what I observe as poor results. I see no correlation between those who get the shot and those who get the flu. Most people I know who get the flu also had the shot. So what's the point? If I'm going to subject myself to the discomfort of an injection (I too have that particular phobia), it damn better better provide me some protection. I can get over my fear if I know that the injection will actually keep me from getting the thing it's supposed to protect me against. It's worth it for that. But a flu shot that doesn't seem to provide any protection against the flu? No thanks.
posted by saladpants at 9:17 PM on September 7, 2009


I wash my hands regularly, carry a pocket sized bottle of purell and use The Handler (caution:auto sound)

I have never gotten the flu shot nor the flu. I am seriously considering getting it (the vaccine) this year because of the swine version and a recent heart issue. I have 3 teens at home and a darling wife who all get the shot year in and year out. I never got any of the childhood diseases including after my mother had me sleep in the same room as my two brothers who had the chicken pox at the time.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:21 PM on September 7, 2009


Well, to add a little confusion to the mix, at this point the swine flu vaccine program seems a little bit dodgy. Personally I'll wait for a doctor I trust to tell me yes, do this. It isn't a perfect solution but it's the best I've come up with and it's served me so far. But all the personal anecdote here (including mine) is basically meaningless: too much confirmation bias, too many unknowns. I know it is the ultimate cliché of AskMe, but honestly, you want medical advice: ask a doctor you trust.
posted by nanojath at 9:24 PM on September 7, 2009


Vitamin D is more effective at protecting you from the flu than a vaccine.

Cite, please?


1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8.

#5 also contains some info on vaccines & vitamin D.

Plenty more citations are available - just Google "vitamin d flu" or some variation on the theme.

So much for "100% grade-A horsepuckey," eh?
posted by torquemaniac at 9:42 PM on September 7, 2009


torquemaniac: Did you actually read those articles? I just did, and 6 of them say nothing even remotely in support of your claim.

Of the remaining two, #4 lists off a whole series of studies and concludes by saying "Can a shot (or tablets) of vitamin D prevent influenza better than a flu shot? There is good reason to believe that it can." However, there is no quantitative evidence provided for this claim, and a lot of the article consists of anecdotal evidence and scaremongering concerning the discredited association between thiomersal and autism. (I could go into additional detail regarding the article's shoddy use of statistics, but it's not really relevant to my point.)

The other, #5, goes into some detail about the adverse effects of vitamin D deficiency on the immune system, but also says "Get the H1N1 flu shot as soon as it is available in the fall" and "I doubt Vitamin D will totally protect you."
posted by teraflop at 10:15 PM on September 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


torquemaniac: the articles you cite have very scant support for the statement that you made regarding vitamin D being "more effective" than a vaccine.

All the articles that you cite make some version of the claim: low vitamin D levels in your body increases the risk of getting the flu. This IS EMPHATICALLY NOT EQUIVALENT TO increased vit D levels protecting you from the flu. Without going into more detail (which is provided in reference #3, if you have access to the full journal article, and some understanding of biochemistry & immunology), Vit D is thought to be necessary for molecules essential to your immune system which help ward off viral infections. More vitamin D does not "boost" your immune response.
posted by scalespace at 10:44 PM on September 7, 2009


torquemaniac: Those studies don't even remotely begin to say what you claim they say. The one link that appears to support your claim is link to Lew Rockwell. Lew Rockwell! And it's full of lies, distortions, and half truths. It's scare-mongering about thimerosol, autism, formaldehyde, and so on.

But, in the interest of edification, here are two examples. The page you link claims that the journal articles "Mortality benefits of influenza vaccination in elderly people: an ongoing controversy." and "Vaccines for preventing influenza in healthy children" support the idea that the influenza vaccine doesn't work. This is a total distortion.

The latter article plainly states that the live virus vaccine is excellent at preventing influenza in children over two. The dead virus vaccine is not quite as good as the live vaccine, which makes sense, but is significantly better than placebo. It is only in children under the age of 2 that this meta study claims the evidence for vaccination efficacy is sketchy. There could be all kinds of reasons for that. But it clearly states that the flu vaccine is very effective in children over the age of 2.

The other study has been commented on quite a bit. The idea is that, while it can clearly be shown that elderly people who receive the flu vaccine have a lower mortality rate, this is complicated by many other things such as the fact that elderly people who get vaccinated tend to have better health care overall than those who are unvaccinated. And so on. Other studies have gone on from this to show that the flu vaccine does confer various benefits (such as a 30% reduced risk of pneumonia hospitalizations) when taking this into account. And even the initial study which is cited as evidence that the flu vaccine doesn't work states very clearly that the efficacy of the flu vaccine for the non-elderly has been amply demonstrated.

The anecdotes are really starting to wear. It's been proven that the flu vaccine is effective in preventing the spread of flu. Some years are more effective than others because they have to predict what the major strains of flu will be in advance and sometimes they are more accurate than others. But this isn't like asking what people's favorite color is: There is a true answer and a false answer, and the idea that the flu vaccine does not protect you from the flu is a false answer. Next we'll be telling cancer patients to take some ginseng instead of chemotherapy.
posted by Justinian at 11:27 PM on September 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


Fascinating discussion as in my country (Australia) the only people I knew who got the shot (recommended, and free) had other medical issues, like Asthma, Diabetes, or were over 65.

As an asthmatic, I am supposed to get the flu shot but never have. The season I was most concerned was when I had a close relative going through chemo and I had to really watch my health. However, now that I've moved to the UK, I will probably start taking it annually as the winters here are harsher and I have to travel quite a lot this flu season. And I definitely use antibacterial lotion and disposable tissues during the winter.

+1 to the comment that injections hurt less these days. I got some travel shots this morning and it was darned near painless (although I did hit the deck, I always feel faint after needles).
posted by wingless_angel at 3:38 AM on September 8, 2009


Many insurance plans cover the vaccine.

Oh, that's another thing -- I am uninsured at present.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:41 AM on September 8, 2009


Two things: I see flu vaccine promos everywhere these days. I don't know what the deal is, but it looks like there are promotions for cheap or free vaccines in a lot of drug stores. Even as a temp, I think it's reasonably cheap enough.

Secondly, I swear to God, this is not my answer to every minor problem but I suggest it often enough that it probably sounds like it is: Can you just get your hands on a Xanax and take it and go get the shot? It's the anxiety, not the pain, that's the problem, and life's got plenty of big deal struggles without making the minor ones the center of attention. Can you score a Xanax or two from your doctor (they often have samples, or maybe he'd write you a script for five or something) and just take it, go get the shot, and forget this whole thing?

Situational anxiety is a big pain in the ass and in cases like this, I think it's best to look at it as an inconvenience to figure out. Like you, I have always been a non-flu shot person. This year and last year, we've done it because we had a baby. I rarely get sick, but I've always operated under the belief that it's good to get sick occasionally as it gives your immune system something to do, but I can see the argument for protecting yourself in the interest of protecting others, and that swine flu in particular seems like a good thing for us as a global community to avoid spreading around.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:58 AM on September 8, 2009


One thing that I don't think has been point out enough in this thread is: This isn't all about you. Vaccines, when applied uniformly across a population, are the single best method for prevention of disease in the history of mankind. The more people that get the vaccine, the better off _everyone_ is...you no longer become an efficient vector for the virus, and the chances of you becoming a node in the spread of the flu are lowered. This makes everyone safer.

So it's not all about you. It's about society, and potentially hundreds or even thousands of of anonymous people who might get the flu because you didn't get immunized.

Get immunized.
posted by griffey at 5:36 AM on September 8, 2009


passing on the flu to someone who it might kill

There's the rub for me. Yeah, the flu sucks when I get it. But it will really suck if a sizable portion of the entire population gets a statistically anomalous virulent strain.
posted by GPF at 5:42 AM on September 8, 2009


EmpressCallipygos, did you say you work for a university right now? check out the student health office, oftentimes they will run a campus wide flu clinic at the start of the fall that is open to everybody.

also, being uninsured makes you eligible for plenty of free vaccinations. talk to whatever low-income planned-parenthood type clinic you know of, they will be able to help you.

and yeah, it sounds like you believe in vaccination herd theory (I hope) so really it's your anxiety that is preventing you, and lots of clinics now give the nasal as a free alternative to accommodate for religious or personal trepidation re: the needle
posted by Think_Long at 7:52 AM on September 8, 2009


I'm just at the university as a temp, and I'm not sure they'd let me use the student health office.

But if clinics have the nose-spray option -- since a clinic would be my most likely visit -- I think I'm sold.

Thanks -- now for the big question: exactly WHEN should I think about actually getting vaccinated? Now, or should I wait a couple months, or....?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:35 AM on September 8, 2009


Empress, if you're in Brooklyn, this may be of interest to you. (Though this info concerns the flu shot, as opposed to FluMist, which may be a dealbreaker. Could ask them about it, though!)

As to the "when" - I'd contact one of the facilities listed in your area to see when it will be available - dates will vary. (For example - our hospital will begin vaccinating inpatients October 1 and continue until the end of March, 2010. Some other areas of the country have already started.) IMHO - sooner rather than later would be a good thing. :)
posted by arachnid at 9:51 AM on September 8, 2009


So I did a quick look through PubMed to see what's been written about vitamin D and the flu.

This paper suggests that the seasonality of flu (more intense during the winter than the summer) is due to lower levels of vitamin D during the winter (less sun = less vitamin D). Looks like it was concurred by this letter to the editor (I can read it through university access, so you'll have to take my word for it, but basically it says they did a similar study with vitamin D vs placebo and found people with vitamin D supplements had lower rates of sickness during winter compared to placebo).

I should note that the first author on the original paper spams my inbox with "vitamin D is wonderful!" about once a month, and he ranges from overly enthusiastic to downright kooky with vitamin D.

Additionally, there's a paper in process right now that's a review of multiple vitamin D studies. It found that based on what they read that taking vitamin D appears to reduce your chances of contracting influenza, though in their mind more studies are needed to determine exactly how much vitamin D you need to take to get the effect.

So, yes, it does look like vitamin D is a good thing to be taking if you're trying to avoid colds and flu during the winter. But it doesn't eliminate the risk, and there's been no study showing vitamin D supplements are better than the flu vaccine at prevention.

I may take vitamin D this winter, but I'm still getting my shots.
posted by dw at 10:03 AM on September 8, 2009


I have gotten the flu shot in the past. I still got sick. I did not get one last year and I walked around all winter wondering why everyone else was sick and I wasn't. I realize this isn't a reason to get it or not to get it, but it's not a guarantee of any kind.

I am deliberately NOT getting a flu shot this year. I think the whole swine flu thing is a bunch of horsepucky. I am not an area 51 type person, but I think the whole hysteria around swine flu is a tad suspicious.
posted by micawber at 10:32 AM on September 8, 2009


So, yes, it does look like vitamin D is a good thing to be taking if you're trying to avoid colds and flu during the winter. But it doesn't eliminate the risk, and there's been no study showing vitamin D supplements are better than the flu vaccine at prevention.

Yes; I would never claim that vitamin D isn't a good thing. I actually take a vitamin D supplement since I am pale enough that I wear sunblock if I'm going to be out in the sun for any length of time.

Vitamin D deficiency also seems correlated with developing certain other diseases such as multiple sclerosis. Getting enough vitamin D is a very good idea and, in fact, I tend to the opinion that many more people than realize it are somewhat vitamin D deficient. It's only the specific claim that vitamin D is better than a vaccine at preventing flu that, as you say, is completely unsupported.

I am deliberately NOT getting a flu shot this year. I think the whole swine flu thing is a bunch of horsepucky. I am not an area 51 type person, but I think the whole hysteria around swine flu is a tad suspicious.

The flu shot has nothing to do with swine flu. Refraining to get a regular flu shut because of swine flu is nonsensical. Since you don't actually have any critique of vaccination besides a nebulous feeling of paranoia I can't really address your concern except to say that, yeah, you sound vaguely Area 51ish.
posted by Justinian at 11:16 AM on September 8, 2009


Just so you know, I did FluMist last year and got sick because I was run down when I got it. I would've preferred the needle because the virus IS dead in the shot, but the doctor was pushing the mist on me because it's cheaper/easier/faster/whatever, but I got sick for two weeks right after. Just saying.

http://www.flumist.com/, which is the official site, even warns that you can get sick from the mist itself.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 11:28 AM on September 8, 2009


The flu shot has nothing to do with swine flu.

Actually I think this year's vaccination has H1N1 strains included.
posted by electroboy at 12:56 PM on September 8, 2009


As someone who, as my job, now spends hours each day with the CDC, I'd like to get rid of a lot of the chat above (it's Mike Shermer bait to me)...

If you get the seasonal flu shot, you don't eliminate the risk of flu... but if you get it, it lessens the severity. (CDC estimates that for 70 percent, no flu; the rest, less severe.) Now, *of course* your general health, your diet, your stress level, the level of interactivity in your job, and your hygiene largely affect both your risk and the risk to your family and others you interact with.

The shot is worthwhile, or ask if the provider has FloNase (which I actually find less comfortable, as I've had both).

And what is flu like when you get it? For most it's 2-3 days of moderate misery, with up to 2-3 weeks of abject misery if you get a bad case-- and here's the real funsies from the NYT: Each year in the United States, about 200,000 people are hospitalized with severe flu symptoms, and 36,000 die.

Cost of the flu shot this year? Ranges from $20 to $30 this year, with subsidized shots available ranging from "free for the unemployed" to just a few bucks. (Example: CVS is offering flu shot vouchers through the government OneStop career centers... I have no further details at this time, but we're keeping an eye on them to see when they roll out more info.)

FINALLY: no, the seasonal shot does NOT have H1N1 strains, so it's a different shot, and it looks to be a two-shot series. You can get seasonal flu in one arm on the same day as H1N1 in the other, and then the 2nd H1N1 a month later. That said, I wouldn't wait to get the seasonal, because the last thing you need is to wait for H1N1 vaccine to arrive-- in late October or November-- and have a seasonal-flu compromised immune system, only to get hit with H1N1. It could be an error leading to hospitalization.

Anyone else have questions? I'm all flu, all the time these days.
posted by Arch1 at 3:03 PM on September 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


Sorry, said FloNase when I should have said FluMist. Yow!
posted by Arch1 at 3:03 PM on September 8, 2009


Actually I think this year's vaccination has H1N1 strains included.

sigh. A/Brisbane/59/2007(H1N1)-like virus isn't swine flu, which is a novel H1N1.
posted by Justinian at 4:25 PM on September 8, 2009


I"ve marked this as "resolved" as I've generally decided I can get this (the nasal-spray option was a revelation).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:08 AM on September 9, 2009


Cool. The inhaled vaccine is, as mentioned in the thread, probably actually even more effective than the shot. I'm just paranoid about attenuated live virus vaccines since my immune system is kind of crappy at the best of times while needles don't bother me at all.
posted by Justinian at 9:31 AM on September 9, 2009


No, I hear you -- but as previously mentioned, I seem to have Super-Strength Immunity as it is so I may do okay with that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:03 AM on September 9, 2009


« Older What are some flexible jobs?   |   An acceptable answer to a salary inquiry? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.