It's getting to be that time of year again, when you wake up way too early, you have plenty of projects piling up at work, the driveway needs shoveling, and you try to roll out of bed only to discover that your body feels like it's on fire and your head (or worse, your bottom) is about to explode. Sure enough, you've been struck by the flu.

More incapacitating than the common cold, the flu (or influenza) usually lasts six to eight days and typical symptoms include fever (up to 104 F), headache, loss of appetite, muscle aches, fatigue, stomach ache, coughing and on occasion, diarrhea. People with influenza are contagious usually three to five days from the onset of symptoms.

Because influenza and the cold are both respiratory infections caused by viruses, and some of the symptoms are similar, it can sometimes be difficult to tell if you have the flu or a terrible cold. 

However, colds rarely produce the headaches, high fever, muscle aches, and extreme exhaustion associated with the flu. Cold symptoms generally isolate themselves to increased nasal secretions (get out your tissues), soreness of the throat (which is less common for the flu) and a hacking cough.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) states: "Epidemics of influenza typically occur during the winter months and are responsible for an average of approximately 20,000 deaths per year in the United States." Although most of the individuals who die from flu complications are over 65 years of age, opting for vaccination can save you from an unpleasant bout of winter sickness and reduce the risk of transmitting the virus to vulnerable individuals.

Efficacy of the flu shot

The flu vaccine is 70% to 90% effective in preventing the flu in healthy adult males. It is still possible to contract the flu after immunization, but typically those who have been vaccinated develop a much milder case of the flu.

Frequency of getting the flu shot

The H1N1 outbreak is a good example of how the strains of flu can change every year. This year, the flu shot will cover the seasonal influenza virus as well as protecting you against H1N1. The CDC recommends annual vaccination to ward of these mutated strains and maintain immunity. The optimal time to receive the flu shot is during October and November, because the flu typically peaks during winter months. It is unknown why the flu peaks during this time, therefore, it is wise to be vaccinated as early in the fall season as possible. The vaccine generally takes effect about two weeks after immunization and the protection provided by the flu shot may last six months or longer.

Debunking common myths

Contrary to popular belief, the flu vaccine does not contain any live virus -- so you cannot get the flu from the vaccine itself. However, it is possible to come down with the sniffles around the time you are vaccinated. So, many people might confuse a cold or another respiratory infection with a side effect of vaccination.

Also, the flu vaccine will only protect you from the strains of viruses included in the dose, and does not prevent the common cold. Likewise, if you contracted the flu just before vaccination or during the two-week window after vaccination that your body requires to build up sufficient antibodies, you may still be able to come down with the flu.

More things to consider

Complications arising from the flu shot are rare. The most common side effect is minor soreness at the injection site, which can last up to two days. If the pain is unbearable, you can ice the injection site or have your woman nuzzle your sore appendage. For some unlucky guys, fever, discomfort and myalgia (muscle pain) may occur 6 to 12 hours after vaccination and last a day or so. Consider that your ticket to a full body massage.


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Allergic reactions are extremely unlikely. The flu vaccine contains a miniscule amount of egg protein, which may cause an adverse reaction in those suffering from severe egg allergies. Alert your doctor of any food sensitivities before receiving the shot, just to be on the safe side.

Rare reactions

Luckily, scary complications from the shot are about as likely as buying a winning lottery ticket. GBS (Guillain-Barre Syndrome), a disease which causes muscle paralysis, is very uncommon and in a standard population, one additional case of GBS can happen per one million doses of the vaccine given.

A small number of people who receive the vaccine can also develop a generally mild side effect known as Oculorespiratory Syndrome (ORS). The symptoms of ORS include red eyes, cough, sore throat, difficulty breathing, wheezing, difficulty swallowing, hoarseness, and tightness in the chest. ORS develops within 24 hours of influenza immunization. Usually, ORS is not fatal and eventually clears up on its own.

Mysterious mercury content

Thimerosal is a mercury-containing preservative that has been used in vaccines since the 1930s. All flu vaccines in the United States contain at least trace amounts of thimerosal. There is no convincing evidence of harm to anyone caused by the small amount of thimerosal in flu vaccines. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) has concluded that the benefits of the flu vaccine outweigh any hypothetical risks posed by thimerosal.

Alternatives to the shot

If the only shots you take are of the vodka variety, there are some easy things you can do to help ward off viral infections.

Those who are afraid of needles should look at the option of new microneedles, which only enter the skin. These are practically painless, unlike regular needles, which hurt because they penetrate muscle.

Priming your body by getting plenty of rest, eating well, exercising, and reducing stress is sure to boost your immune system into prime defense mode. Also, wash your hands, avoid touching your mucous membranes (nose and eyes) and use a hand sanitizer frequently in order to kill the bugs you encounter in germ cesspools before they get you.

Take care of yourself like your mom would. Be sure to drink lots of fluids and get plenty of rest. If you suffer from head and muscle aches, take an analgesic like Aspirin, Tylenol or Advil.
For the lovers of natural therapy, garlic (whole cloves), fresh ginger, honey, goldenseal, echinacea, vitamin C, and zinc supplements are known to be natural immune boosters.

If you want to reduce the duration of the flu, there is also the option of antiviral medication (amantadine, rimantadine, zanamivir, and oseltamivir). See your doctor for more information.

Get the poke, bloke

All in all, the risks associated with contracting or transmitting the virus is higher than the mild potential side effects of influenza vaccination. Besides, if you develop the flu, there's a chance you might infect others who are at higher risk of deadly complications than you.

Contact your doctor or local health-care provider for more information on when and where to be vaccinated. Your insurance may even cover the cost of the vaccine. After all, would you want to take a sick day when you could be developing a healthy appreciation for hot winter interns?