published Thursday, September 20th, 2012

Fear of needles no longer an excuse to avoid flu shots

Photo by Dan Henry /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Who should get a flu shot?

Anyone over the age of 6 months, especially:

• People with certain medical conditions including asthma, diabetes and chronic lung disease

• Pregnant women

• People 65 and over

• Those caring for or living with people at high risk of developing complications

How to stave off the flu:

• Wash your hands with soap and water, or an alcohol based hand sanitizer, often.

• Cough and sneeze into the crook of the elbow, not the hand

• Avoid those who are ill

• Do not share food or drink

Fluzone Intradermal, a vaccine injected into the skin rather than the muscle, boasts a 90 percent smaller needle than the standard Fluzone injection.

"You don't even realize there's a needle on there," said Sally Chumney, nurse practitioner at the CVS Minute Clinic in Riverview. "So if you're needle-phobic and that's your main issue, it's definitely a good option."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the intradermal shot is approved by the FDA for use in adults ages 18-64.

The effectiveness of the shot is the same, experts say.

Dead particles from three flu strains are generally contained within the vaccine, said Dr. Synthia Beeler, a family practice physician at Parkridge Medical Center.

"When your body is exposed to the dead flu, it will realize it's a foreign substance and make antibodies," Beeler said. "The healthier you are, the more likely you are to generate a robust immune stock."

Therefore, she said, those with chronic health problems or the elderly are less likely to create as many antibodies.

While the flu season typically begins around October, both Chumney and Dr. Beth Casady have seen positive flu tests in school age children already.

"In fact, we saw a couple of flus over the summer, so there's some strain that never went away this year," Chumney said.

Speculation exists, Casady said, that the earlier flu season might be related to a warm winter and particularly hot summer. Not all the viruses were killed, she said.

People travel a lot more than they used to, and are thus exposed to more viruses, she said. "That's just speculation on my part, but I think that's a reason we see (flu) more prevalently."

An infected person can also start spreading the flu virus up to a week before showing any symptoms, thus the importance of having a preventative flu shot.

"You can be exposed by someone you think is totally healthy and then end up with the flu," Beeler said.

It takes about two weeks for the shot to be completely effective.

While the intradermal needles might be less frightening to those with phobias, Chumney said she has seen patients have more discomfort at the time of injection with the smaller needle.

"It's weird," she said. "I don't know if it's because the needle is just going into the skin and the skin has to absorb that liquiud, and when you give it in the muscle, you have the whole muscle to absorb it."

Whereas the longer needle, that goes into the muscle, can cause muscle discomfort, the smaller needle seems to cause more itching and irritation on the skin surface.

However, Beeler pointed out, the mild discomfort that can be caused by flu shots pales in comparison to the actual illness.

"If you do get the flu, pretty much you're incapicated for 7-10 days," she said.

about Holly Leber ...

Holly Leber is a reporter and columnist for the Life section. She has worked at the Times Free Press since March 2008. Holly covers “everything but the kitchen sink" when it comes to features: the arts, young adults, classical music, art, fitness, home, gardening and food. She writes the popular and sometimes-controversial column Love and Other Indoor Sports. Holly calls both New York City and Saratoga Springs, NY home. She earned a bachelor of arts ...

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