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Should You Get the Flu Shot?

Information about HIV and the Flu Shot

By

Updated October 05, 2010

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

We all know the signs and symptoms; headache, achy muscles and joints, fever and a persistent cough. Each year scores of people are knocked on their butt by the flu -- a simple but very unpleasant and potentially serious disease. But we can all protect ourselves from this annual affliction by simply getting our annual flu shot. However, many HIV positive people wonder if the flu shot is for them; should they be vaccinated like everyone else? Simply put....yes they should.

The flu shot or the influenza vaccine as it is known in medical offices, is a simple way to decrease your risk of getting sick from the viral respiratory illness known as influenza. But believe it or not, there are many people, including those living with HIV, who refuse or even fear this simple vaccine. Fear is based primarily on uncertainty; not knowing what exactly the flu shot or influenza vaccine is and what it offers. Unfortunately, there are several myths that have convinced some people to avoid the flu shot at all costs. I want to dispel those myths while showing you exactly what the influenza vaccine is and how it benefits you to get the shot.

Important Flu Vaccine Facts

There are some important facts you should be aware of before passing judgment on the flu shot. It is ultimately your decision whether you get the flu shot or not but before making that decision, get all the facts.
  • Get the Influenza Vaccine Type that is Right for You
    Although we often refer to the influenza vaccine as the "flu shot," there are actually two types of influenza vaccine; attenuated and live. The attenuated vaccine is one that is composed of virus that has lost its virulence (ability to make you sick) but can still cause an antibody (immunity) response in your body. Some people refer to this vaccine as a "dead" vaccine. The live-attenuated virus vaccine maintains a low level of virulence and can initiate an antibody response. Despite its low virulence, the live virus vaccine can still cause a very mild version of the infection in some people. The flu shot is the inactivated vaccine; the nasal mist influenza vaccine, known as Flumist is the live vaccine. People with weakened immune systems such as those living with HIV and AIDS should NEVER receive the live-attenuated influenza vaccine; they should only receive the injection or flu shot.
  • You Can't Get the Flu from the Flu Shot!
    While the live vaccine can give some people very mild symptoms of the flu, the inactivated flu shot does not. It's all a matter of timing. The influenza vaccine takes approximately 10 days to 2 weeks to fully protect a person from the flu. If you are exposed to the flu before that time, flu symptoms may occur. But simply getting the flu shot can not give a person the flu because the injected flu vaccine is attenuated; unable to cause illness in those who receive the vaccine.
  • Aches and Pains are Normal
    It's common to feel achy, have a low grade fever or feel fatigued a day or so after getting the flu vaccine. This is a normal response to the flu shot and is NOT an allergy or the flu. These symptoms will resolve on their own.
  • You Need to Get Vaccinated Every Year.
    Because the virus strain that causes the flu changes each year, so does the vaccine. Last year's flu shot will not protect you against this year's virus strain or strains.
  • Mom's to Be Need to Get Vaccinated
    Pregnant and breastfeeding mothers CAN and should receive the flu shot.

Who Should Be Vaccinated?

All people 6 months of age and older should be vaccinated for the flu. People who received the 2009-10 pandemic and/or seasonal flu vaccine need to receive the 2010-11 seasonal vaccine. In addition, anyone who was infected with the pandemic flu in 2009-10 should receive this year's vaccine.

Who Shouldn't Be Vaccinated?

  • previous anaphylactic reaction or sensitivity to eggs or other vaccine components
  • people suffering with moderate or severe acute illness should delay vaccination until they are feeling better and their acute illness is resolved.

Now you have the facts so get out and get that flu shot. Most insurances cover the vaccine. If not, the cost is usually $15 to $30 and can be found in most doctor's offices, hospital clinics, and some of the larger chain pharmacies. Avoid the flu with this simple vaccine and enjoy a healthy winter.

Important Note!
If you are unsure if you should receive the flu vaccine or are unsure if you should get the live or inactivated flu vaccine, consult your doctor.

Source

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; "Influenza Vaccine Information Statement"; August, 2010.

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