Flu shot still a must

Last year the so-called "swine flu" scare sent people scurrying to get flu shots. This year, doctors are worried that people don't feel the same urgency to get vaccinated. But they say the danger is still there. KUHF health, science and technology reporter Carrie Feibel explains why.
Influenza is always a problem. It’s just that some years it gets more media attention, like when H1N1 emerged last year. That’s the strain known as “swine flu.” Dr. Melanie Mouzoon of the Kelsey-Seybold Clinic says it’s still out there.

“It is still a threat. We can’t forget that flu viruses tend to mutate and so the H1N1 has circled the globe once now. And it’ll come back around and around for a number of years.”

Health officials have already determined that H1N1 is circulating right now in Texas and the Houston area. So are the more traditional flu strains, influenza A and B. The good news is that just one shot covers all the major virus strains out there right now. And it’s easy to find the shot. Dr. Howard Koh is the assistant U.S. secretary for health.

“We’re very grateful that in addition to traditional places like doctor’s offices and hospitals, we’re seeing non-traditional partners, pharmacies, supermarkets, workplaces, and we just welcome that partnership because we need to send that message into as many venues as possible.”

This year, the federal government is recommending that everyone over six months old get the flu vaccine. Koh says if you haven’t already gotten the shot, go now.

“It’s not too late, in fact this is really the ideal time to get vaccinated before disease is widespread.”

Flu season peaks in January and February. The estimated death rate varies widely from year to year, but can reach as high as 49,000.

Mouzoon says it takes about two weeks for the shot to become fully effective, so you still have time to acquire immunity before the holidays.

“This is a great time to get vaccinated, people cluster together over Christmas and the holidays and they travel in from out of state and they’re bringing whatever that’s circulating in their own cities to your city and crowding in your household and sharing drinks and enjoying each other’s company. And so unfortunately it’s a good time to share flu viruses too.”

Mouzoon also wants to remind people that the flu shot cannot give you the flu.

“This is a killed virus vaccine — unless you’re getting the nasal spray and that has slightly different side effects — but the shot actually can cause a little bit of fever, a little soreness in your arm. It cannot give you the flu. It’s dead virus. It’s been chopped up. It is not capable of even infecting even one cell. It’s just a protein that your body recognizes and then is able to fight off the living virus.”

From the KUHF Health Science and Technology Desk, I’m Carrie Feibel.
Bio photo of Carrie Feibel

Carrie Feibel

Health & Science Reporter

Carrie Feibel is KUHF's health and science reporter. She comes to Houston Public Radio after ten years as a print reporter...