2 Flu or not 2 Flu? Should you?

2 Flu or not 2 Flu? Should you?

by Margaret Desjardins

I hate shots. I mean I really hate shots…I fainted when I got my ears pierced. Just the thought of needles makes me light headed.

So it was with some trepidation that I approached the free flu shot clinic at City Hall this morning and allowed Louise Rice, the Senior Director of Public Health Nursing for the City of Cambridge, to swab and stab me with…a flu shot.

But I didn’t faint. In fact, I hardly felt it.

I'd never gotten a flu shot before. Did I really need one? After all, it was just the flu...

Who should get a flu shot?

“Everyone,” says Louise. “Unless you’re allergic to eggs, because the vaccine virus is grown in an egg medium.”

flu virusFlu, short for “Influenza”, is caused by a virus which spreads via an infected person to the nose or throat of another person. Flu rates are highest among children and elderly, where it can lead to pneumonia and can be dangerous for people with heart or breathing conditions. Flu hospitalizes an average of 226,000 people a year, and kills 36,000– mostly elderly.

"Flu season in New England doesn't peak until late January and continues all the way into April," says Louise. "So this will give us plenty of time to make sure that everyone who needs vaccine will get it. And there’s plenty for everyone."

Flu viruses mutate, so influenza vaccines are updated annually. Experts meet in February to examine flu patterns coming out of Asia and determine the most likely strains of flu virus for the year.

“This vaccine has three different flu strains,” says Louise. “The three strains the experts have determined to be most likely for this year. They usually get it right.”

But talk with your doctor first before getting a flu shot if you:

  • have any severe allergies (in addition to eggs or other vaccine components)
  • have ever had a severe reaction after a previous flu vaccine
  • have ever had Guillain-Barre syndrome (a severe paralytic illness, also known as GBS)
  • are even moderately sick – it may be best to wait until you’re recovered.

Can a flu shot make you sick?

A few people might feel achy or have a low fever the night after a flu shot. Contrary to what they might believe, this is not the flu.

Those are side effects,” says Louise. “It’s the immune system responding and developing antibodies against the flu. They pass in about 24 hours.”

Are there any risks to getting a flu shot?

Though vaccines, like any medicine, can possibly cause problems, the risk of a vaccine causing serious harm is extremely small. Life-threatening allergic reactions are rare, but if they happen, they will become evident within a few minutes to a few hours after the shot.

Other than soreness, redness, and swelling where the shot was given, serious problems from flu vaccines are extremely rare.

But if you experience any unusual conditions such as:

  • High fever
  • Behavior changes
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Hoarseness
  • Wheezing
  • Hives
  • Paleness
  • Weakness
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Dizziness

Call a doctor, or get the person experiencing these symptoms to a doctor immediately.

Flu Clinic_NEW.mp4Click this image to see a short video of the Cambridge Flu Clinic at City Hall.

Last year, the public health nurses vaccinated about 3,000 people. Louise says they usually do 100-300 people at any one site. Maybe you should be one of them!

What’s the worst that can happen if you do?
What’s the worst that can happen if you don’t?
You decide.

See the 2007 Cambridge Flu Clinic Schedule

See the Cambridge Flu Website


Maybe I'll get one this year. Thanks for the info!

Yeah it was not as bad as I thought and I'm a wimp. You have no excuse as you're right around the corner!
Margaret Desjardins
NeighborMedia 02138

this is really interesting and important info, Margaret! Interesting, because this year, there is enough flu vaccine to go around, so the net is being cast wider than in years when there was a shortage of vaccine. Important, because, if you have ever had the misfortune of suffering from the flu, you KNOW you want to avoid it at all costs! so, thanks for spreading the word!

It’s not too late for a free flu shot!
Last Cambridge flu clinic is Dec. 20

If you haven't gotten your flu shot yet, the Cambridge Public Health Department is holding its final flu clinic this Thursday, Dec. 20 at the Windsor Street Health Center, 2nd Floor, 119 Windsor Street. The department is also offering pneumonia vaccine to people over 65. All vaccines are free. In addition, Network Health will be on hand to help uninsured residents enroll in its health plan.