It's approaching flu season

 Since we are rapidly approaching the flu season, I'd like to answer common questions I hear about influenza and the flu shot.

1. I'm afraid I'll catch the flu from the shot. You cannot catch the flu from the flu vaccine. These vaccines are made with viruses that are killed (inactivated), and cannot cause an influenza infection.

2. I've had the flu shot previously and I got the flu anyhow. This is possible, but not likely, in that no vaccine is 100% effective.

3. I've never had a flu shot and have never had the flu. Consider yourself lucky, and as in most cases, one's luck will usually wear out. Don't take a chance, this could be the year.

4. The flu is no big deal.  Tell that to those who have not survived a bout of influenza, or to the worker who misses a week or more of work, as well as the student missing time from school. Besides, having the flu can make you feel very miserable.

5. I worry that it could be harmful to my baby/child to have yet another vaccination. Babies have a higher incidence of death due to influenza.There is no proof that the flu vaccine worsens or changes the effects of the other routine childhood vaccinations. The recommendation is that everyone from 6 months of age and older should receive the flu vaccine.

6. I have already have a chronic disease and I take lots of medications. Do I really need a flu shot too? All the more reason to receive a flu shot since flu is the most deadly for those with chronic medical conditions.

7. I have a tremendous fear of getting a shot. It may beeasy to say, but this is probably the time to work on the principle of mind over matter.

8. I'm pregnant, won't a flu shot harm my baby? Not only has the flu vaccine injection been proven to be safe during pregnancy, but is highly recommended for pregnant women in any trimester of pregnancy.

9. I'm 35 years old and healthy, do I really need a flu shot?  In 2009-2010, the swine flu (H1N1 virus) took a particularly heavy toll on the age group 18 to 64 years of age. Better safe than sorry.

10. Any reason I absolutely shouldn't get a flu shot?  There are a few reasons, the most common being a prior allergic reaction to a flu shot or a severe allergy to eggs. The vaccine should be delayed if you have an illness with a fever.

11. What are the possible side effects?  Possible temporary side effects include redness and or pain at the injection site, as well as a possible low grade fever, and body aches.

12. When should I get the shot? The flu season typically begins as early as October and can last until late spring. I advise getting it sooner rather than later. It takes about 2 weeks after receiving the shot for it to become effective.

13. Where can I get a flu shot?  Most major pharmacies provide flu shots on a drop- in basis, as well as through most primary care doctor's offices. Larger medical groups have special drop in flu clinic days.  For children, call your child's primary care provider to find out how they are to receive a flu vaccination.

14. How much will a flu shot cost me?  For most people it is free either because they have a government insurance plan such as Medicare or Medicaid, or they have private insurance. There may be a nominal fee for those without insurance.

Terry Hollenbeck, M.D., is a retired urgent care physician at Palo Alto Medical Foundation Santa Cruz in Scotts Valley. He can be reached at

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