As winter approaches, we think about many things. Where are the mittens, do I have enough salt for melting the ice and when can we visit somewhere warm? One question that rarely arises is, “When can I get my yearly flu shot?” Getting a yearly influenza vaccine makes a bit of sense. It protects us and those around us from catching a nasty viral infection. But there are so many questions about this vaccine. How does this world travelling virus turn into a yearly vaccine? How is this vaccine made? The newest question is can the yearly influenza vaccine protect my heart?
Who makes this yearly vaccine? The answer is also WHO; the World Health Organization actually. Each year, laboratories all over the world track which kinds of influenza causing viruses are in their community. They get samples from people, who have come into the hospitals with flu-like symptoms. Once a year, usually in February, these labs send their findings to the WHO. A vaccine choice is made based upon which influenza virus strains are the most prevalent and troublesome. Three or four virus strains are chosen to be included in that years vaccine and then production starts.
When does the flu season start? We usually recommend that people wait to get their vaccine until late October or early November. This is because the vaccine offers protection for about six months. Vaccination in October will provide coverage until the flu season is over in March. Generally, the peak of flu season occurs in January and February. People with weakened immune systems or young children might need to get a second vaccine around January. It would be best to check with your Physician or public health office for more details. Pharmacies often start their flu vaccine clinics around the end of October.
Why should you get a yearly flu shot? For most people, catching the yearly flu is only a minor inconvenience. They get sick for a few days, spend some time in bed and things are fine. However, for people with chronic medical conditions (asthma, diabetes, heart disease), the elderly and those with compromised immune systems, catching the flu can be very dangerous. This is why these individuals, their caregivers and friends should get a yearly flu vaccine. To explain why vaccination is a good idea, let's learn about the principle of herd immunity. Essentially, this means that if a significant amount of those around you are vaccinated or immune to a disease, you are most likely protected. Some businesses offer free vaccines it order to keep their employees healthy. Can you spare the time to spend three to four days in bed? In many cases, caregivers and those who work with people at risk can get a flu shot at no charge. Ask your Heart Pharmacist if you qualify for a free influenza vaccine.
There is some emerging evidence suggesting that getting a flu shot can help protect your cardiovascular system. A large study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that older people who got a flu shot had a 36% lower risk of having a major cardiovascular event in the next year. The numbers were even higher for those who recently had a heart attack or stroke. There are a few reasons for this protection. Firstly, infections cause a lot of inflammation. This might lead to impaired blood flow and an increased risk of heart attacks or strokes. Influenza can lead to respiratory symptoms and lower blood oxygen levels. This makes the heart work harder to deliver needed oxygen within the body. Finally virus can directly injure muscles, this is more problematic when heart muscles are involved.
Who knew that the simple yearly flu shot could help protect your heart. Your local Heart Pharmacy usually starts their flu vaccine clinics in early November. This might be a good time to see if you are up to date on your other vaccinations. Your Heart Pharmacist can also administer pneumonia, tetanus, shingles and many other vaccines.