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Who Needs the Flu Shot

By Bradley Ihrig, MD

You’re feeling miserable. You can barely get out of bed because your muscles ache so much. The fever is causing chills and sweats and you can’t stop blowing your nose and coughing. It’s that season again! Yes, flu season will soon be upon us. You may recall some of the mass hysteria last year concerning the H1N1 or so-called “swine flu.” This has prompted revised guidelines to better address this year’s flu season. The good news is that the H1N1 strain has been integrated into the routine seasonal flu vaccine, so that only one immunization is needed, apart from special exceptions for children who have not had a previous influenza immunization. Children who have not been previously immunized and who are between 6 months and 8 years of age will need a series of 2 vaccines spaced at least 4 weeks apart to help boost their immune response.

Basically everyone above 6 months of age should get the vaccine. Why? In contrast to previous flu seasons where the elderly and sick were the main targets of serious complications, last year’s flu season saw severe complications and even deaths in the normally young and healthy. With the widespread early availability of the seasonal flu vaccine which incorporates the H1N1 strain along with 2 others (an H3N2 and influenza B virus), there is no reason to panic this year. Flu season is variable but generally runs between November and April. Therefore, now is the time to get vaccinated!

There are two different forms of the vaccine: an inactivated shot form, and a live weakened variety called FluMist, which is a nasal spray. There are pros and cons to each, which can be discussed with your health care provider or pharmacist. The vaccine is also being offered at various pharmacies throughout Missoula. There is also a new vaccine specially formulated for those over 65 called Fluzone High Dose. This was developed to help the often weakened immune response to the traditional flu shot in the elderly. As children younger than 6 months are not approved, it is important that family and caregivers are adequately immunized to help prevent transmission to this vulnerable age group.

While it is a good idea for virtually everyone to get vaccinated above 6 months of age, individuals with the following should NOT get the vaccine: severe allergy to chicken eggs, previous severe reaction to the influenza vaccine or a previous neurological condition called Guillain-Barré Syndrome. In addition, you should delay immunization if you feel sick and have a fever.

Many but not all health plans cover the cost under their preventive health section, but you should check with your health plan to see if this is a covered benefit.

Bradley Ihrig, M.D., M.P.H.  is a family medicine physician with Community Physician Group.

For more information on flu shots please call Community Physician Group at 406-327-4170