Should I get a flu shot before an upcoming work trip to the US?
February 12, 2018 4:07 AM   Subscribe

The current flu outbreak in the US has me a bit concerned. I'm freelance, so not eligible for sick leave, and work is very busy right now. Should I get a flu shot before I go?

Data point: I'm in the UK. I'm currently on a medium term-ish booking for Dream Client. I'm off to NYC for a week in about a week's time. The period after this trip will be very, very busy. As I'm freelance, I don't get paid sick leave, and also this work is super exciting and I don't want to miss out. Additionally, I already had the flu last year and it sucked and blew so very much and I'd really prefer not to go through that again.

Concerns about getting a flu shot - I'm not clear on whether the UK flu shot covers the virus that's going around in the US. Also, I've never had a flu shot, but anecdotally I've heard that you can feel a bit rough afterwards, and, again, I'm trying to avoid getting sick here.

I already have a pretty intense hand sanitiser habit from taking London public transport daily, so hand washing and hygiene is pretty thoroughly covered.

So what should I do? Vax or no vax?
posted by nerdfish to Travel & Transportation (38 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
As I understand things, it takes abt 2 weeks for the vaccine to take effect. It seems your time frame makes the question moot.
posted by she's not there at 4:19 AM on February 12, 2018 [3 favorites]

It takes somewhat more than a week for the full immune response to develop. Also, this year's vaccine is less effective than most years, since one of the predominant strains this year mutated after the vaccine production began. However, getting vaccinated would still reduce your chances of getting sick. I wouldn't worry about the vaccine making you feel sick, that is a minor effect and not noticeable for most people. If it's easy for you to get the vaccination, you might as well.
posted by jkent at 4:19 AM on February 12, 2018 [11 favorites]

Yes get the flu shot now.
posted by SyraCarol at 4:35 AM on February 12, 2018 [4 favorites]

It would make sense for you to get the flu shot even if you weren’t traveling to the US.
posted by ejs at 4:36 AM on February 12, 2018 [18 favorites]

Yes, this is the recommendation of just about every health professional.

It makes it less likely that you will acquire or pass on the flu, and even if you still get it, it will be less severe. What do you have to lose?
posted by entropone at 4:46 AM on February 12, 2018 [5 favorites]

I'm not clear on whether the UK flu shot covers the virus that's going around in the US

Ask your GP.

Anecdotally I felt really rough after getting my flu shot... In future I will not schedule anything big after it. I had to pick up a few parcels and things on the way home from the GP and I felt dizzy and exhausted.
posted by Ziggy500 at 4:49 AM on February 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

I vote yes, unless you are allergic to eggs or had a bad reaction to a previous flu shot. I was light-headed as described by Ziggy after a shot some years ago. I would allow for the possibility, but not let it stop me.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:04 AM on February 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

Yes. I have never felt anything after a flu shot. It’s impossible for the shot to make you sick.
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 5:11 AM on February 12, 2018 [8 favorites]

Yes, get a flu shot.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:41 AM on February 12, 2018

My church normally does communion by intincture (take a hunk of bread, dip it in the wine/juice, eat). Last week they gave us communion in pre-sealed, individual disposable containers. I have been attending this church for seven years, and this is the first time I've seen them do that.

Get the shot.
posted by middleclasstool at 6:01 AM on February 12, 2018 [3 favorites]

All the public health folks around here are saying "it's not too late to get a flu shot, couldn't hurt, might help" because it can reduce severity and duration of illness even if you still catch something.

I'd do it today or tomorrow, though. They can make your arm ache like hell and some people feel run down for a day or so afterward, plus like others have said above, the immune response isn't immediate.
posted by Flannery Culp at 6:07 AM on February 12, 2018 [3 favorites]

Not in the UK, but the flu vaccine the NHS administers has the same strains (which they have to guess at before flu season begins) as the one specified by the CDC in the US, namely:

* an A/Michigan/45/2015 (H1N1)pdm09-like virus (updated)
* an A/Hong Kong/4801/2014 (H3N2)-like virus
* a B/Brisbane/60/2008-like (B/Victoria lineage) virus

With the quadrivalent adding:

* B/Phuket/3073/2013-like (B/Yamagata lineage) virus.

Apparently the big strain going around is A/H3N2 with some regions having a separate outbreak of H1N1.

4,000 Americans died in one week from the flu, so, yes, please get the vaccine. It should protect you as well as give you peace of mind.
posted by bluecore at 6:20 AM on February 12, 2018 [8 favorites]

Even if the timing is kind of on the edge, you could benefit from increased protection on the flight home.
posted by amtho at 6:26 AM on February 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

If you get the flu shot, it somewhat decreases your susceptibility to this year's flu, but it reduces your chances of hospitalization if you do get the flu by something like 30%. You are less likely to have very severe flu and less likely to die. You should get the flu shot.

I felt a little less than fabulous after this year's shot, but I just went straight home from work and went to bed. It's unusual to have more than a passing reaction to the shot if you haven't in the past.
posted by Frowner at 6:26 AM on February 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

I work in public health and strongly recommend you get it asap. All the medical & public health folks I know are pretty concerned about this year's epidemic. You will not have full immunity by the time your trip starts, but even partial is better as has been said several times already.

Anecdata, we all had the flu shot in my family and no one had any side effects. I think my arm was a bit sore after.
posted by john_snow at 6:41 AM on February 12, 2018 [7 favorites]

If you get sick in the US, zip to a doc-in-the-box and have them do a test; if it's the flu, they'll give you Tamiflu, and it will knock back the severity and the duration, if you get it within 24 hrs of onset of symptoms. This flu SUCKS; do all you can to fight it.
posted by Don Pepino at 6:49 AM on February 12, 2018

I've had the flu shot every year since I got the flu in 2003. The only side effect I've ever had has been a mildly sore arm. Tip: get it in your dominant arm, because the more you move it around, the less soreness you'll get. I really wonder how much people feeling bad after the flu shot is confirmation bias.
posted by fiercecupcake at 7:25 AM on February 12, 2018

I'm just going to add my hint for making it suck less - take some paracetamol half an hour or hour or so before getting it. Less muscle aches and prevents the headache I used to always get after.
posted by cobaltnine at 7:28 AM on February 12, 2018

Get the shot. Fun tip to keep your arm from hurting: a lot of the soreness at the injection site can be spread out by just waving your arm in the air afterwards, making sure to use those muscles so that the blood flow moves the medicine around. You don't have to do pushups or go to the gym, just make big swooshy arm circles, do some jumping jacks, anything that gets your upper arm moving.
posted by aimedwander at 7:31 AM on February 12, 2018 [4 favorites]

Yes, get a flu shot. This 2 week’s thing is bandied about for all the wrong reasons. It takes 10-14 days for FULL effectiveness, but you gain some protection in the first few hours.

Also, even if you get the flu, your symptoms will be less severe and shorter duration if you’ve had the shot.

Serious reactions to the shot are rare, and even those are far better than the flu.

You have a societal obligation to get the shot IMO, in addition to personal gain.
posted by SaltySalticid at 7:33 AM on February 12, 2018 [5 favorites]

Yeah, get the shot. This year's flu is bad enough your immune system, and that of the herd, need all the help they can get. Getting the shot might mean you don't bring the flu back with you and spread it to other people who haven't had the shot.

Single data point, worth nothing: I had essentially no reaction to this year's shot, while last year's gave me a lump in my arm that, no joke, lasted for a month.
posted by fedward at 7:42 AM on February 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

A family member is currently in the hospital dying from organ failure because of the flu. She is not going to recover. She's in her early 30s and has a baby. So yeah, get your shot. Everyone eligible for the flu shot should get it.
posted by Stonkle at 7:43 AM on February 12, 2018 [8 favorites]

It may not keep you from getting the flu, but it will keep you from dying from it.
posted by Toddles at 7:43 AM on February 12, 2018

Okay, the group consensus made me head down to my local pharmacy to ask about a flu shot and she actually recommended I get a prophylactic tamiflu script from my GP? I have a GP appointment next week but I might just go to another pharmacy and get a flu shot anyway.

Stonkle - I'm so sorry about your family member. I will definitely get the shot in their honour.
posted by nerdfish at 7:59 AM on February 12, 2018 [4 favorites]

Tamiflu has beneficial effects if taken within 48 hours of symptom onset, not 24 as I erroneously stated; and I should have stressed I'm saying take it in addition to the flu shot, not in lieu of the flu shot, which you should totally go to another pharmacy and get right now. I got the shot and had the flu and got off relatively easy with just two days of mild fever; boyfriend and close mutual friend did not fare so well. Both were wracked with high fever, nausea, chills, and in his case terrifying delirium. They were out with it a week despite taking Tamiflu. Cover your bases and get both--and makes sense to get it all done now so you don't have to pay ridonk US prices.
posted by Don Pepino at 8:09 AM on February 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

Also, get some antibacterial wipes and wipe down everything around you on the plane. I've been able to find these at the airport in the US - no idea about their availability in the UK.
posted by FencingGal at 8:11 AM on February 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

I've heard some pharmacies in the US charging $230 for a treatment of tamiflu, if you can even find it due to a shortage, so if you can get a script filled for cheap through the NHS before you travel, I would do so.

I'm sorry about your family member, Stonkle.
posted by bluecore at 8:26 AM on February 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

Also sorry Stonkle for your family member. When I posted my comment, yours had not yet shown up - I didn't mean to come off as insensitive.
posted by Toddles at 8:53 AM on February 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

Piling on to definitely get the flu shot. If you want the Tamiflu do that in addition. Everyone around me is pretty lax about the shot and it seems everyone has gotten the flu. I’ve been spared and I’m pretty sure the flu shot has saved me. Never had anything more complicated than a sore arm from it, but that goes away pretty quickly. I’d get the shot just to protect myself from the flying tube o’germs, never mind the actual US visit.
posted by cgg at 9:05 AM on February 12, 2018

I heard on the news yesterday that four kids have died in NYC from the flu this season. It's not merely yourself you have to worry about, but everyone you might spread it to if you do get sick. Get the shot.
posted by praemunire at 9:05 AM on February 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

You feel bad after a flu shot because your immune system is responding to the vaccine, as it should. The flu tends to move around the globe, following winter. It does mutate, but it's my understanding the flu jab is similar or identical. The downside to the flu shot is some mild discomfort. The upside is some protection form a disease that is killing people including young, healthy, adults. Apparently, it's being referred to as Australian flu in the UK, and is on the rise. It was a bad flu season in Australia and New Zealand.

Stonkle, my heart goes out to you and your family.
posted by theora55 at 9:13 AM on February 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

Re: antibacterial wipes-- Don't.

The flu is caused by a virus, not a bacterium. Antibiotics have *no effect whatsoever* against viruses.

If the recommendation is to get some kind of sanitizer that works against lots of microbes, then sure. Not a bad idea.
posted by yellowcandy at 10:20 AM on February 12, 2018 [4 favorites]

There is now a front page post regarding the flu, with good links.
posted by theora55 at 11:07 AM on February 12, 2018

If you can fill your prophylactic Tamiflu prescription at home, you will be at least $100 wealthier, since the cost of a course of Tamiflu out of pocket in the US is at least that. It has side effects, though, so don't take it unless you actually get the flu.
posted by citygirl at 11:16 AM on February 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

I’m back at work (in New York, though the other side of the state) for the first day in a week because of the flu and I feel like I should still be home resting. A woman I work with was hospitalized. You want the flu shot.
posted by okayokayigive at 11:28 AM on February 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

> They can make your arm ache like hell

It didn't make my arm hurt at all this year, although it has in the past, and a doctor I talked to noticed the same thing. Maybe it's a coincidence. I deliberately kept my arm as relaxed as possible while getting the shot and then waved it around for a bit afterwards; can't hurt, might help.
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:24 PM on February 12, 2018

Yes get the flu shot. I would honestly wear a mask on the airplane ride as well.
posted by pintapicasso at 5:40 PM on February 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

Definitely get the shot, and fill your Tamiflu prescription before you come if you can. I'm not sure what it is like this year, but in the past there have been regional shortages of Tamiflu during severe flu seasons. If you can have it with you when you come, you'll be better off.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 3:49 AM on February 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

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