The Flu Shot

Sep 30, 2013

By Trevor Shewfelt, Pharmacist at the Dauphin Clinic Pharmacy

Shut up! No you shut up! Im hungry. Arent we done yet! I hate you! Ahhhh. The sounds of nature. For anyone still at their cabin at Clear Lake towards the end of September, Im sorry. The Shewfelts decided to spend the weekend at Elkhorn. On Sunday morning we went for a walk along the Clear Lake lakeshore trail. I was a beautiful, sunny, warm fall morning. The leaves were still out in their orange, yellow and gold glory. I wouldn't be exaggerating saying the morning walk was as pretty as a picture because we past artists standing on a dock painting the scene. They were creating beautiful canvases of the lakeshore trail with the shafts of morning light playing with the spruce trees. And my children hated every moment of it. Apparently the lakeshore walk was too long and too boring. My kids were vociferously expressed their displeasure at a volume that I'm sure woke a few cottagers. Again, Im sorry. The only solace I have to offer is waking up to my loud angry children is still better than waking with the flu.


What is the flu? The flu (or influenza) is a highly contagious viral illness. It can spread easily from one person to another

through coughing, sneezing or sharing food or drinks. You can also get the flu by touching objects contaminated with flu virus and then touching your mouth, eyes or nose. That is why hand washing is so important to prevent the spread of the flu. It is also recommended that you cough or sneeze into your elbow, sleeve or into a tissue. Influenza symptoms include fever, headache, cough, muscle aches, runny nose, sore throat and exhaustion. The symptoms of the flu are usually more severe than that of a cold. Also,the onset of the flu is usually quite sudden. Flu symptoms usually last from 7 to 10 days, but the cough and weakness can continue for 6 weeks. Influenza arrives in Manitoba every year in late fall or early winter.


Can I get the flu from the flu shot? No. The flu vaccine is made from dead virus parts. It cannot give you the flu. Unfortunately, some people can get sick, or can even get the flu immediately after the flu shot. That is because the flu shot doesnt start working until 2 weeks after the shot. So you can catch the flu and get symptoms during that two week period. Also, people who seem to have gotten the flu within a day or two of the shot probably had the flu virus in them already at the time of the shot, and would have gotten sick anyway. Finally, the flu shot only protects against some very specific influenza viruses It doesnt protect against the common cold virus or bacterial illnesses.


Can the flu shot give me a bad reaction? Rarely. It is always safer to get the flu shot than to get the flu. The flu shot is made in chicken eggs. So people with serious egg allergies should not get the flu shot. You can get a local reaction at the injection site that turns red and sore for up to two days. You may also get fever, headache, or muscle pain. Your pharmacist can get you acetaminophen products to help with these mild symptoms. If these symptoms get very bad or last for a long time, seek medical attention. If you get hives, difficulty breathing, or swelling of the throat, tongue or lips after you leave the flu clinic, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department for immediate treatment.


How well does the flu shot work? Well, that is difficult to say. The influenza virus mutates every year or so. Scientists look at what the flu virus was like last year and try to predict what it will be like this year when they make up a new batch of vaccine. If the virus only changed a little, the flu shot works well. If the virus changed a lot, the flu shot doesnt work as well. The on average, the flu vaccine is effective in about 50-70% of healthy adults and children. Last year, in the 2012-13 flu season the effectiveness was estimated to be 50%. In nursing homes, the flu vaccine stops 50%-60% of flu related hospitalizations, and 85% of flu related deaths. As said before immunity to the flu usually starts about 2 weeks after the shot and lasts less than 1 year. The elderly, unfortunately, can have their immunity fall off in as little as 4 months.



Who should get the flu shot?

-Seniors aged 65 years or older

-Residents of personal care homes or long-term care facilities

-Children six months to five years of age

Those with chronic illness such as:

-an immune system weakened by disease or medical treatment

-a condition that makes it difficult to breathe

-children 6 months to adolescents 18 years of age on long term acetylsalicylic acid (i.e. aspirin) therapy.

-people with other chronic medical conditions (ex. diabetes, mental disabilities)

-Pregnant women

-Health care workers and first responders

-Individuals of Aboriginal ancestry

-People who are severely overweight or obese


An interesting fact is that children under nine years of age who have never had a seasonal flu shot before will need two doses, given four weeks apart.



Who should not get the flu vaccine?

  • Infants younger than six months of age

  • Anyone who has a severe allergy to egg protein, formaldehyde or thiomerosal

  • Anyone who has a serious acute illness, with or without fever, on the day they are to be immunized. A mild illness, with or without a low fever, is not a reason to avoid getting the flu shot

  • Persons known to have developed Guillain-Barre syndrome within six weeks of a previous influenza vaccination.

So get the flu shot. No one likes to get sick and the flu shot is your best protection from getting the flue. If you get the shot, you are also protecting the 2000 to 8000 Canadians who die of influenza every year. Dying was also on the minds of my children during that fateful walk on the lakeshore. They were convinced they were going to starve to death. So they can up with a plan. When the four Shewfelts succumbed to our terrible hike, the children decided they would eat me before they would eat their mother. Im still not sure if I should be happy they have active imaginations and problem solving skills, or just be frightened.


As always if you have any questions or concerns about these or other products, ask your pharmacist.


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The information in this article is intended as a helpful guide only. It is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional advice. If you have any questions about your medications and what is right for you see your doctor, pharmacist or other health care professional.


Manitoba Health Flu info site:

Health Canada Flu site:


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