Questions and answers about the flu.
1. How do you explain the fact that people who have gotten the flu shot are still getting the flu?
They aren't getting the flu. That isn't possible because the flu shot uses a dead virus to make you immune. Dead viruses cannot infect you. You can have a minor allergic reaction to the shot which includes sniffles, brief muscle soreness, even slight fever. Flu Mist, which is a more recent vaccine, utilizes a very weakened form of the virus, which isn't used in immune-compromised patients but shouldn't get you sick either.
2. I heard that flu shots only protect us for three months. If we get a shot early on, is a second one recommended to last the entire flu season?
It is actually 9 months, which is still plenty to last the season if you got one in September. We give a second one for the very young and sometimes for the very old to boost their immunity.
3. Should you still get a flu shot if you have already survived an experience with this ugly bug and only have a lingering cough?
Yes because we can't tell which strain you had, and we especially want to protect you against the H3N2 strain, which is the one which is causing most of the trouble this year and may not be the one you had.
4. Why should I get the flu vaccine if I'm perfectly healthy?
First, because the vaccine is totally safe and there is no reason not to get it. Second, because you could end up with a severe case despite being healthy, and there is evidence that the vaccine may decrease how sick you get even when it isn't completely effective at preventing flu.
5. I am concerned about the mercury in many flu shots.
Thimerosal, which is a preservative that helps keep vaccines from being contaminated with bacteria, has never been shown to lead to autism, despite many scientific studies over many years.
6. I am allergic to eggs, but I want the flu vaccine. What should I do?
Check with your physician; you may be able to tolerate it if your allergy is mild enough. Other options now exist, including FDA-approved mammalian cell flu vaccines. Check with your physician to see if that is available.
7. I am afraid that I have the flu. Should I go to the ER?
Right now we are concerned about emergency rooms being overcrowded with patients who may not need to be there. Classic symptoms of flu include fatigue, muscle aches, sore throat, headache, nausea, cough, runny nose. Call your physician or come in to see her. The ER may be needed if you can't keep fluids down, can't keep your temperature down, or have other health conditions like heart problems or diabetes that can be made worse by the flu. Also be on the lookout for bacterial infections such as pneumonia, bronchitis, and ear infections, which often accompany the flu and can prompt the need for hospitalization or an urgent care visit.
Marc Siegel, M.D. is a professor of medicine and medical director of Doctor Radio at NYU Langone Medical Center. He has been a medical analyst and reporter for Fox News since 2008.