FIRST PERSON | If you think you've heard enough talk about flu shots, flu season, and flu epidemics, imagine being a nurse like me. I'm bombarded with talk about the flu and flu shots, whether I'm home surfing the internet and watching TV or at work treating patients. It's true we are witnessing one of the worst flu outbreaks in a decade and a flu shot is your best defense against catching influenza. But getting the flu shot is not a magic bullet for surviving this flu season. In fact, there are several reasons why you should not depend on the flu shot.
The flu shot is not 100 percent effective
To be fair, no vaccine is 100 percent effective. But you shouldn't fool yourself into thinking, "I got a flu shot. I'm covered." It is estimated that this year's flu shot is only about 60 percent effective in preventing influenza. So don't walk around like Superman with an anti-Kryptonite shield. You are still vulnerable.
The flu shot does not cover all strains of influenza
There are too many strains of influenza to have all of them covered under one vaccine. And if you're unlucky enough to come in contact with one of those neglected strains, you can't depend on your flu vaccine to help you.
You can get the flu any time of year
The last time I got the flu was June 1992. That's right, summertime. We all know that the official flu season lasts from about October to March. But that doesn't mean you can't get the flu any other time of year. It's too late to think about this now, but keep it in mind next season when you think you can wait until September to depend on your flu shot.
Getting a flu shot after exposure is too late
So you got your flu vaccine today. Congratulations. But wait! That guy standing next to you at the bus stop three days ago came down with the flu. Guess what? Now you may come down with the flu. You shouldn't depend on the flu shot if you receive it after exposure. It takes time to build up immunity.
In addition to the flu shot...
To lessen your chances of getting the flu this season:
Wash your hands diligently and carry a pocket hand sanitizer.
Avoid people who are sick. If you must be around them, avoid intimate touching and consider wearing a mask.
Clean your home with products like Lysol that kill cold and flu germs.
Support your immune system with proper diet, Vitamin C, adequate sleep, and regular exercise. Stress weakens your immune system.
Bloomberg.com, Flu Shock: Outbreak Already Ranks as One of the Worst in a Decade, January 14, 2013
CDC.gov, Seasonal Influenza: What you should know for the 2012-2013 influenza season, last updated January 11, 2013.
J Budd is a registered nurse and former broadcast journalist in the NYC/New Jersey area.