To Your Health
October, 2009 (Vol. 03, Issue 10)
Share |

Should You Get a Flu Shot?

Before You Do, Make Sure You Understand the Potential Risks

By Dr. Claudia Anrig

Every year just before the weather turns colder, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention begins an advertising campaign geared toward motivating the masses to get the flu vaccine. They talk about the number of deaths each year that are attributable to the flu and the number of missed work days that cost employers hundreds of thousands of dollars. This year, that campaign will likely be even more urgent due to outbreaks of the "swine flu" virus, which have spread from one country to the next in the past six months or so.

Should you get yourself and your children vaccinated against the flu? This article is not intended to encourage you to vaccinate or not to vaccinate against the flu, but rather to provide you with some basic information so you can decide for yourself. Of course, you should always talk to your doctor when deciding whether to receive any vaccination or medication.

What Is the Flu?

Flu Shot - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark Influenza is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. The most common symptoms are fever, headache, fatigue, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, and body aches, as well as diarrhea and vomiting. The flu can cause complications such as pneumonia or dehydration and may aggravate existing conditions like asthma and heart disease. It is spread from person to person in respiratory droplets when people who are infected cough or sneeze.

What Is the Flu Shot?

The flu shot is an inactivated vaccine (containing killed virus) that is given with a needle, usually in the arm. The flu shot has been approved for use in people older than 6 months of age, including healthy people and people with chronic medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, or heart disease). What the CDC doesn't tell you is that the other ingredients in the flu shot include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Ethylene glycol - antifreeze
  • Phenol (also known as carbolic acid) - a disinfectant and a dye
  • Formaldehyde - a known carcinogen (cancer-causing agent)
  • Aluminum - associated with Alzheimer's disease and seizures, and has produced cancer in laboratory mice, but is still being used as an additive to promote antibody response
  • Thimerosal - a mercury disinfectant and preservative that can result in brain injury and autoimmune disease
  • Neomycin and Streptomycin - used as antibiotics and have been known to cause allergic reactions in some people

What Are the Potential Side Effects?

Just like all vaccines and medications, there are potential side effects associated with the flu shot. The CDC and other health care organizations would have you overlook them for the supposed benefit of being inoculated against the flu. However, it's important to at least be familiar with these potential side effects and weigh the potential risk vs. benefit when deciding whether you or your child should receive the shot.