Why getting stabbed might save a life (and why you should too).

Image from actionalexandria.org.

I got my flu shot today.

It was my first day back after vacation and I was wandering around the surgery ward trying to stay awake (the first 5am of the week hurts, especially after a week of 7 and 8ams) when the lovely charge nurse grabbed me.  I instantly presumed I was in some sort of demand.  Probably someone needs home care forms filled out before discharge or something.  But no, she just wanted to make sure I knew they were giving out flu shots in the unit’s conference room.  And that if I haven’t had one already, I should get one.

This made my day.

No, I am not the sort of person who gets cheap thrills from pain.

I am, however the sort of person who loves some good convenience.  And a flu shot in the very area I am working is just that.

Plus a free pen and an awesome sticker never hurt anyone either.

So, I rolled up my sleeve and got the job done.

Total time out of my day 15 minutes (including the waiting period so they can ensure you don’t pass out, nor go into anaphylaxis).  During said time I managed to drink my coffee, check my blog, check Facebook and my email, plus finish organizing my to-do list.

When you really get down to it, I did something super productive and really did not lose any time in doing it.

Win!

Odds are at least half of you reading this will now roll your eyes and say something like, “The flu shot? Seriously Trisha, I got one once and I got sick anyway.  What a waste!”

I will now respond in kind.

That is a stupid argument.

Blunt? Yes.  Honest? Yes.

Just about every time I get the flu shot, I develop a low grade fever, aches and feel crappy for a day or two.  It is how I roll with just about every vaccine.  My body really likes to take things on full force.

Does this suck?  Heck yes!

But, it is not as bad as the real flu.

Oh, and the flu shot is an attenuated virus.  It can’t give you the flu.

Herein lies the issue.  Most people assume every cold they get is the flu.  No sir.  And other people assume that when they start barfing their brains out that is the flu.  Wrong.

The flu is actually a cold on steroids (though steroids would potentially relieve some cold symptoms, so scratch that).  If you have had a real flu, you know.  You can’t work with a flu.  You have a fever and pain and all kinds of delightful snotty/coughy symptoms.  And maybe some vomiting or nausea.

The flu kills people.

Probably not you.  You are probably healthy and young (unless of course it is H1N1 or the Spanish flu).  It kills babies.  And old people.  And sickly people.  The people who you should be trying to protect.

People who die of the flu often die of things like pneumonia and thus things like insurmountable infection and respiratory distress.  Not good ways to go.  Not on my top ten, that is for sure.

And yes, I am sure most of those people who can get the flu shot do (unless of course one has egg allergies).  But not all of them do.  Yet, they still get out.   They go to malls and touch the same things our grubby hands touch.  Or they are taken care of by people like me who work in the hospital and come into contact with all kinds of lucky stuff.

So, let us think for a second… People who are susceptible to this illness are all around us.  And they could die.  But, we won’t get a two second needle to help protect them?  I am pretty sure most of you were against small pox.  Bet you are glad people back in the day sucked it up and got vaccinated!  That helped to protect you.

It is a concept called herd immunity.  Kind of like how kids these days aren’t getting measles or whooping cough and such.  Well, they weren’t… Until people started to refuse to immunize their kids.  Now kids get those things again.  And die.  Not as many as before, but more than when I was a kid.  Because the majority of the herd is no longer immune.  For a variety of both good and bad reasons… More on that some other time.

I am not talking a vaccine with significant moral sequelae here (unless you are allergic to eggs).  And maybe you are opposed to stem cell research or something.  They grow the stuff in chicken eggs.  Not human fetuses.  And they test it on animals.  Not baby cells.  And it doesn’t go to the animal tests until it is otherwise safe.  So, unless you are a protector of chicken egg rights (which some people are and I respect that decision), you really don’t have to freak out about current vaccine techniques… Unless you go waaaayyy back.  Or talk about some other vaccines, which I am not addressing here.

Even then, sure some people feel very strongly about animal rights or stem cell use and what have you.  I do know that this is a very small portion of people.

And NO I haven’t heard anything official about flu vaccines causing autism.  I know people worry a ton about thimerosal, a preservative used to prevent bacterial growth in vaccines (their purpose is to keep us safer).  If you are concerned, there are thimerosal free flu vaccines available.

There are potential side effects with the vaccine.  There are potential side effects to taking a Tylenol or a vitamin supplement too.  Bad stuff happens sometimes.  Most of the time you get a sore arm.  Maybe a low grade temperature.  I won’t lie, there are scary side effects like Guillian-Barre syndrome.  You can also develop liver failure from Tylenol.  Or anaphylaxis from an antibiotic.  Probably won’t stop you from taking those.

So, why is it that the uptake for flu vaccines is so low?

Hmmm…

This is some serious needle fear. Image from cbc.ca.

People are scared of needles.

Indeed they are.  People are generally more scared of death.

The vaccine doesn’t always work.

This is true.  The method in which viruses are identified for use in the next year’s vaccine is based on flu patterns in the opposite side of the world.  Scientists use all kinds of cool techniques to predict what will be prevalent in our area.

Sometimes scientists are wrong.  And sometimes the viruses just change really fast.  Thus, sometimes, the vaccine may not protect you from one of the strains of flu that is going around that year.  Or it may only offer partial immunity.  This is the same reason why you can’t have one vaccine and be set for life.  Viruses change too fast for that stuff.

But, like other things in like, the overarching notion is that sometimes you just have to hedge your bets.

I know a few people who feel that hedging their bets is equivalent to not bothering with the vaccine.  In fact, in health care workers… People who are told they should get the vaccine, uptake is disturbingly low.  And they work with the people most at risk.

I am not sure if that says they really like their jobs or that they really hate their patients.

Yes, it is your body and your decision.

Again, I reiterate that you can get the flu too.  And it will suck.

But not only that… To me (and public health theory), it is basically putting your coworkers and patients at undue risk for the flu.  You might bring it in to them.  You could be the tipping point, the index case.  I know I wouldn’t want to have the flu outbreak of unit x on my head.  It sounds extreme, but it can happen.

I work in oncology.  So, many of my patients are immunocompromised.  They got their flu shot.  But, they might not be as good at fighting the flu despite that.  If I go to work sick… I am exposing them to that risk.  People feel safe in the hospital and here I am hacking virus all over them.  Seems cruel to me.  Sure, I have my right to security of person, but don’t they have the same right?  And as health care consumers, shouldn’t they be protected.  That is the whole reason we dress like fools to see people with contagious diseases… Not just for ourselves, but for others too.

I work in a hospital.  Someone always has to be there.  That is how it works.  When you get sick at 3 am, there is someone there.  If everyone gets the flu, then who will be there?  Yet another good reason to try to prevent illness, both in you and in co-workers who may not be able to get the shot for medical reasons.

I got my flu shot today.  Yes, my arm is a bit sore.  But, I am riding on my flu shot high horse.  I did my part to protect myself and my patients, as well as my family and friends.  I have asthma… The tables could turn at any minute.  I am one of those people who can die from the flu.  But, so can my friend’s baby girl and by grandfather.  I quite like them.  Please don’t give them the flu.

*This is a link up with Medical Mondays – a once a month blog hop for blogs about all things medical.  Check out some of their posts of medical awesomeness from medical professionals/students/spouses and the like!


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15 thoughts on “Why getting stabbed might save a life (and why you should too).

  1. I got my flu shot too! And I do so every year. That’s because I seem to have a weakness in that whenever I get a cold, it almost always ends up as bronchitis. So, I figure I definitely don’t want the flu which mainly affects the respiratory system. Also, other than a sore arm, I’ve never had any nasty side-effects from the vaccine and I am thankful for that.

    It always amazes me how many people think that the flu vaccine guards you against getting a stomach virus (or whatever you want to call it.)

    At any rate, good for you! You got your flu vaccine!

    • Yay! I am glad you got your flu shot too! Good job!
      The whole assuming the flu vaccine protects you from things like stomach bugs amazes me too.
      Keep up the good work!

  2. Splendid post!!! As a person with a compromised immune system, I am SO thankful for your efforts and for your charge to the general public. Next time anyone asks me how they can help, I will commission them to get the flu shot and then point them to your post for substantiation. 🙂

    Abigail

    • I am glad you liked the post! This is exactly why I wrote it. To remind people how they can help and also to protect themselves.
      Take care and thanks for the encouragement and for stopping by!

  3. Great post… sometimes people need a voice of reason regarding the flu shot. I got mine this year and was pleasantly surprised by the new intradermal formulation… so much less sore the next day!!

    • Sometimes people do need a bit of a push. I guess I was feeling the need to shove a bit today.
      Glad to hear you were less sore. Hopefully I have the same result!

  4. Got my flu shot a few weeks ago. Arm wasn’t sore. No fever, no aches. Maybe it was a fake! I appreciate your wanting to protect the immunocompromised folks who come to you for care. When I was fighting cancer, I always hoped the doctors and nurses were protected. I think the flu could have killed me when I was going through chemo! Great post. Connie

    • Hopefully it isn’t a fake, lol!
      I have to say, my arm isn’t too sore either. A very good thing indeed!
      That is the thing that gets me… I know patients hope and expect their caregivers are protected in order to protect them. I wouldn’t want to break that trust!

  5. You persuaded me to put getting my flu shot on my to-do list this month. I only wish it was as convenient as it was for you. Do they have home flu shot visits? Or maybe I could have my husband pick up the vaccination and bring it home for me. Thanks for linking up with Medical Monday’s.

    • I am glad you added the flu shot to your to-do list! I wish it were more convenient! Getting your spouse to acquire and bring some home would do it, though I am not sure how safe that would be…

  6. What a great reminder. Got stabbed last year and it worked like a charm. Must get stabbed again this season! I just signed up for emails and now I’m off to explore your blog some more. 🙂
    Thanks for linking up with Med Monday this month! Hope you see you again on the grid!

    • So glad to hear it worked like a charm! I love flu free years!
      I am excited to have you on board here! Med Monday is awesome. I will be back again! Thanks for visiting!

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