Flu Shot Vaccine Advice from an Immunologist in NYC

This weekend I found myself recuperating from a mild viral illness. I self-made the diagnosis (using my medical skills) because what started as a scratchy throat- which I thought was due to lecturing for 3 hours to my medical students this week – actually evolved into a low grade fever with some chills and sweats. Fortunately, it doesn’t appear to be one of theInfluenza strains – I’ve had that 2 years ago (H1N1) and I was much more ill. So, I thought it was a good time to remind myself and otherswhy it would be a very good idea to get your flu shot in the next few weeks.

Theflu shot comes in 3 general varieties:regular flu vaccine given from multi-dose vials that due contain the preservative thiomersal, preservative-free single dose vials (which we give in our office) and the Flu-Mist (the intranasal spray). Theregular flu vaccine is usually safe and minimal reactions are observed. It is widely given in doctor’s offices and pharmacies. The preservative-free vaccine is less widely used and I offer to patients who want a little more piece of mind that the vaccine they are getting doesn’t have thiomersal, which contains about 25 micrograms of mercury. These are both given as injections. The other alternative is the intranasal Flu-Mist. This is a live-virus preparation which is safe, but should not be used in children or adults withasthma, immune deficiencies or the very young or elderly, who might have compromised immune systems, pregnant women or patients with underlying heart disease or diabetes.

October and early November are a good time to get your flu shots or sprays because the Influenza virus typically peaks in December, January and February. The immunizations takes 2 to 3 weeks to start to be effective and should last through these high peak months.

I also strongly recommend that patients that have sore throats and fevers go to your doctor to get a throat culture for Strep or a nasal swab forInfluenza – that is what we do in our office, because antibiotics are not effective for viral illnesses and for severe viral illnesses, if the patient is seen early anti-viral medications can lessen the severity.

A medical pearl of advice: Don’t rely on the over-the-counter meds for relief. They can mask the severity of symptoms. The zinc nasal sprays can permanently cause loss of smell, and over use of decongestants can raise blood pressure and cause heart arrhythmias.

I am not against a well-made chicken soup like my grandmother used to make – it provides relief to a sore throat (that’s the hot salt effect) and good old comfort food.

Dr. Dean Mitchell
Mitchell Medical Group, NYC & Long Island

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *