Sep 25, 2013 — Flu shots are regularly recommended by doctors now. But did you know that what makes up the shot changes every year based on what strains of flu are most likely to be around? Learn about this and more flu shot facts and myths from Dr. Susan Terry.

Interview

Announcer: Medical news and research from University of Utah physicians and specialists you can use for a happier and healthier life. You're listening to The Scope.

Scott: If you're like most people, you're probably still in denial that summer should still be here and the flu shot is the last thing on your mind, but actually flu shots are available right now. Dr. Susan Terry with University of Utah Hospitals and Clinics, thank you for joining us today and when did the flu shots become available?

Dr. Susan Terry: We actually got our flu shots about two weeks ago, and so there're available now, usually mid to late August.

Scott: And should somebody get one as soon as it becomes available, or should you wait until it gets a little closer to flu season.

Dr. Susan Terry: Actually, we would like to see people to start getting their flu shots as soon as they're available, so that we can make sure that we get as many people vaccinated as possible.

Scott: As a general rule, who should be getting the flu shot?

Dr. Susan Terry: We recommend that everyone over the age of 6 months get a flu shot, unless they have some real reason not to get it, such as a religious restriction or a serious significant allergic reaction to previous flu injections or to eggs.

Scott: And I got my flu shot last year, so I'm covered this year, right?

Dr. Susan Terry: No, Scott, unfortunately you have to get a flu shot every year because we change the vaccine every year. So we look at what was around last year, as far as the typical antigens of influenza and we also look at what happens in the Southern Hemisphere, in places like South America, over their flu season because of course, they're in the winter when we're in the summer. We're looking at all of the different types of viruses that are out there and we change the vaccine to meet those viruses.

Scott: And you have, is it four new viruses that you're kind of thinking are going to be the super stars, or the problems this year?

Dr. Susan Terry: Yes, we have four antigens in this year's vaccine, in most of this year's vaccine. Some of the vaccine that's available this year has three antigens, two A and one B, because that's what we saw in our own area last year. And now they're producing a vaccine that's called Quadrivalent, which is four things, so we have two A and two B in the Quadrivalent vaccine.

Scott: And how, kind of bad are these particular strains of flu that you're adding this year?

Dr. Susan Terry: We don't really have any super influenza, like we had some concern about a few years ago, but any influenza can be serious for anyone who becomes ill, but particularly for anyone with any risk factors.

Scott: Let's talk about that for a second. So how bad is the flu really if I don't get my shot.

Dr. Susan Terry: Well it can be serious. You can be hospitalized, you can get pneumonia, and, unfortunately every year a few people die from influenza.

Scott: And about how long, if you do get it and you don't get the shot, does the flu kind of stay in your system?

Dr. Susan Terry: Oh you can be sick for 10 to 14 days with influenza.

Scott: And if you get the shot does it completely eliminate that chance or?

Dr. Susan Terry: No vaccine is 100% effective, because as you can see, this year we have different antigens than we had last year, a different influenza virus was around last year than the previous year. So every year something new creeps in and you may still get sick. But even getting a vaccine that is not 100% protective against what's out there is better than not getting any vaccine at all, because it does stimulate your immune system to react to a virus that comes along.

Scott: All right, what about this excuse, every time I get the flu shot I seem to get sick right afterwards.

Dr. Susan Terry: Well there can be some side effects. You don't get the flu from the flu shot, that's just the truth, you don't get the flu from the flu shot. But you can get a little achy, you can get a runny nose, some people even get an upset stomach, but those are really side effects of the vaccine, that's not really influenza.

Scott: Are there other excuses that people tend to use? Let's talk about those right now.

Dr. Susan Terry: Some people do have concerns about being allergic to the flu shot because their arm gets sore, but that's really a reaction, your body is reacting, starting to create immunity to the influenza so you do get a red swollen arm sometimes, but again, that's not a bad thing.

Scott: And what about the notion, I've heard of something called herd immunity, so it's almost as if I as a healthy adult should get the flu shot, because the more people that get the vaccines the better.

Dr. Susan Terry: That's true. The more people who are immune to the virus, the better it is for all the people who are around them, and it is called herd immunity, and it is one of the things that we count on, because we know that we will not get 100% of the people who should have a flu shot, getting a flu shot.

Scott: As a health care professional then your final thoughts, flu shots definitely worthwhile regardless of any little side effects that somebody might get.

Dr. Susan Terry: Definitely worthwhile and anyone with asthma or chronic obstructive lung disease, anyone who is pregnant, anyone who has cancer, or any kind of immune suppression, like HIV-Aids, children less than 2, and anyone over 65, definitely, definitely think about getting a flu shot.

Announcer: We're your daily dose of science, conversation, medicine. This is The Scope, University of Utah health sciences radio.