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Don't Let the Flu Bug Bite You This Year

November 13, 2002

Don't Let the Flu Bug Bite You This Year

by Charles E. Wright, PhD, HVAMC Preventive Medicine Coordinator

Released: 2002/11/13

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HVAMC Primecare nurse, Nancy Ferguson, LVN, gives veteran H. W. Strain his annual flu shot. In the United States, flu is responsible for around 114,000 hospitalizations and 20,000 deaths each year. Although most flu occurs in children, it is the most dangerous to people over 65 years of age or people with medical conditions that make them more likely to have flu complications. Flu complications include pneumonia or the worsening of acute or chronic respiratory diseases.

Photo by Shawn D. James, HVAMC Media Section

HOUSTON, TX - Flu season is again on its way, and will probably arrive in Houston just after Christmas. By far, the best defense against this devastating illness is to get a flu shot in October or November before the flu arrives. At the Houston VA Medical Center (HVAMC), we began giving flu shots to veterans in mid-September.

In the United States, flu is responsible for around 114,000 hospitalizations and 20,000 deaths each year. Although most flu occurs in children, it is the most dangerous to people over 65 years of age or people with medical conditions that make them more likely to have flu complications. Flu complications include pneumonia or the worsening of acute or chronic respiratory diseases.

Flu shots are highly recommended for people over 50 years of age; adults or children with a chronic heart or lung disease including asthma; adults or children who have had regular medical follow-up for chronic metabolic diseases like diabetes, renal disease, hemo-globinopathies, or immunosuppression from, for example, medications or HIV; residents of nursing homes or other chronic care facilities that house persons of any age with chronic medical conditions; and women who will be in their second or third semester of pregnancy during the flu season.

At the HVAMC, we take very seriously the recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control that all employees who work with people at high risk of flu and its complications should get flu shots. It is for that reason the HVAMC has a very important and successful Employee Vaccination Program whose goal is to protect our veterans.

Flu viruses change enough each year that everyone must get vaccinated each year with the newest flu vaccine. Last year's vaccine won't last through this year, nor will last year's vaccine match the strains of flu virus that are expected to circulate this coming flu season.

We often hear of people who refuse the flu shot because it made them sick once. There are two explanations for this.

First, the vaccine is made of dead vaccine material and can't make you sick, but the body does not know the difference between the vaccine material and the real live flu virus. As a result, in addition to the desired immune response to protect you from flu, the body fights the vaccine with a slight temperature that may cause some aches and pains like a real cold. This is a natural response of the body and is stronger in some people than in others. Remember, if your body responds to this little bit of vaccine material, imagine what it will do with an invading army of aggressive prolific virus.

The other reason flu shots are blamed for making someone sick is timing. When we are vaccinating against the flu, there are at least four other "cold" viruses that march through Houston. Many times, we give someone a shot the day or two before they come down with unrelated cold. This is just unlucky timing, and is not related to the vaccine.

If you have questions about whether you should or can have a flu shot, talk to your Primecare Provider.

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Point of Contact: VHAHOU Public Affairs

04/21/04 08:25