Question of the Week

November 10, 2003


"Your head aches, and so does every bone in your body. You're cold one minute and hot the next. Your throat is scratchy, you're starting to cough - you may be getting the flu! If you have the flu, you'll have lots of company. From December to April, all across the United States, as many as 90 million people come down with the flu each year. Although children most frequently come down with the flu, people in every age group - including teens - can catch it."

So "What causes colds and the flu?
Viruses. Over 100 different viruses can cause colds. There aren't as many viruses that cause the flu. That's why there's a shot for the flu and not for colds."

And "What can I do to keep from catching colds and the flu?
The viruses that cause colds and the flu are spread by hand-to-hand contact and by droplets released in the air from sneezes and coughs. Wash your hands often with soap and warm water, and avoid touching your eyes or nose."

Flu season is beginning, and influenza vaccine season is in full force. If you've ever had the flu--and most of us have at some point--you know that it is certainly not fun. With the new FluMistTM* commercials running, there are reminders all around about how miserable the flu can be. So, is the vaccine the the best option, or should you just wait out the season, see if the flu comes your way, and deal with it then.

"Influenza, or the flu, is generally not dangerous, but complications from the infection can be. Some people who get the flu become seriously ill and need to be hospitalized. Some people even die from illnesses related to the flu...."

"Each flu season is unique, but it is estimated that approximately 10% to 20% of U.S. residents get the flu, and an average of 114,000 persons are hospitalized for flu-related complications. About 36,000 Americans die on average per year from the complications of flu."

"Your doctor may recommend that you get a flu shot. Each year, scientists develop a flu vaccine (flu shot) that consists of the inactivated (killed) flu viruses that are most likely to infect people that year. By injecting you with the killed viruses, your body develops the flu antibodies before you catch the live virus."

So, how do you know if the flu shot is the right choice for you? This year there is plenty of vaccine (no shortages as there have been in some past years), so some doctors are recommending the vaccine for all patients. After consulting with you doctor (and possibly your parents, depending on your age), you have a decision to make. As you decide, you can take into consideration your risk factors for contracting and/or having a serious reaction to the flu.

For "Groups At Risk for Complications from Influenza" see:

Most people don't need a flu shot. Many choose to get vaccinated because of risk factors, others don't want to be bothered with the flu. Others may not be at high risk for complications, but may be at risk of spreading the flu because of their living or working situation.

"Anyone who wants to lower their chances of getting the flu (the shot can be administered to children as young as 6 months) can get a flu shot. Persons who provide essential community services (such as police, firemen, etc.) should consider getting a flu shot to minimize disruption of essential activities during flu outbreaks. Students or others in institutional settings (those who reside in dormitories) should be encouraged to get a flu shot."

And this year, there is another aspect to consider:

"The recent global outbreak of SARS has heightened concern about the occurrence of respiratory diseases having symptoms similar to those seen in SARS. Although the global outbreak of SARS has been contained throughout the summer, considerable uncertainty surrounds the question of whether SARS might recur, perhaps according to a seasonal pattern....Influenza is one of several diseases causing fever and respiratory symptoms that might raise suspicions of SARS. However, influenza is of particular concern because of the potential for institutional and community outbreaks and regional epidemics."

With all that said, there are still people "Who Should Not Get a Flu Shot." For example, "People who are have a severe allergy to hens‚ eggs."

It is always best to consult your doctor if you have any concerns or questions about the flu, or its vaccine.

*For "Questions and Answers About Live Attenuated Influenza Vaccine (Trade Name FluMistTM)" from the CDC, visit:

Questions of the Week:
Who should you involve in your decision about whether or not to get vaccinated? (Doctor? Parents? Anyone else?) How do you know if you are in one of the groups who should--or should not--get the vaccine? If you are in neither group, then how do you decide whether or not to get the shot? In what ways is this just a personal health issue? In what ways can your personal decision be considered a public health issue?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

[email protected]
Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

Request Question of the Week by email 
QoW Archives: 9/2002 - 8/2003 9/2003 - 8/2004 9/2004 - 8/2005 9/2005 - 8/2006 9/2006 - present

Custom Search on the AE Site