In order to protect yourself from the influenza virus, you may be considering getting a flu shot this year. In order to help you make an informed decision, here are some facts about flu shots and vaccines in general.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) advises that the single best way to protect yourself is to get a flu shot or the nasal spray flu vaccine every year, but it should be noted that there is some controversy about the safety of flu shots and other vaccines. Most of the controversy involves an ingredient called thimerosal, which is commonly used by manufacturers of the flu shot and other vaccines as a preservative. Thimerosal is a mercury based preservative and over the last twenty years or so, it has been removed from many health care products in order to protect public health. Most recently, doctors and scientists believe that they have established a link between thimerosal presence in vaccines and autism. Because of this link, New York recently passed a bill banning the use of thimerosal in vaccines or flu shots to be given to young children and pregnant women.
Thimerosal is a known neurotoxin, meaning it is a poison that damages or destroys nerve tissue. In small amounts, the human body can deal with the poison, but in larger amounts it can cause illness and death. A yearly flu shot alone may not contain enough mercury to cause problems, but because of environmental pollution, yearly flu shots are not the only source of possible mercury contamination. It is the possible effects of mercury from many sources including a yearly flu shot that causes concern. Preservative free flu shots are currently available for adults and children, but you may need to request them specifically.
Flu shots contain dead influenza viruses. About two weeks after receiving a flu shot, antibodies providing protection against some strains of the influenza virus develop in the body. By studying the strains of the virus that are currently circulating, committees of the FDA and the World Health Organization decide which strains should be including in the flu shots for the upcoming year. Currently there is no flu shot that provides protection from the avian influenza strains of the virus.
The nasal spray flu vaccine, which is sometimes preferred over the flu shots, contains a live, weakened flu virus and is approved for use in healthy people from 5 to 49 years of age who are not pregnant. Like the flu shot, the nasal spray vaccine is only effective in preventing certain strains of the flu virus and does not protect against avian flu.
The CDC recommends that there are some people who should not take the flu shot or the nasal spray vaccine without consulting a physician. This bears mention because some pharmacies offer flu shots prior to the beginning of the flu season. If you are allergic to eggs, had a reaction to a flu shot in the past, developed Guillain-Barre syndrome after a flu shot in the past or if you currently have a fever or other illness, you should consult your physician before taking a flu shot or a nasal spray vaccine. In addition flu shots are not approved for use in children under the age of 6 months.
Side effects of flu shots include fever, aches, soreness, redness or swelling at the point where the shot was given. The nasal spray vaccine which contains live virus can cause the following side effects in adults; runny nose, headache, sore throat and cough. In children the nasal spray vaccine can also cause vomiting, muscle aches and fever. Flu shots may also be associated with Guillain-Barre syndrome, a disease in which the body damages it’s own nerve cells, resulting in muscle weakness, paralysis and sometimes permanent nerve damage. The swine flu shots in 1976 were the first to be associated with the syndrome. A study of subsequent flu shot vaccines suggested that some people who take the flu shot may be at risk of developing the syndrome.
The CDC further advises that people can protect themselves from the risk of contracting the flu and other viruses by practicing good health habits (wash hands frequently, avoid touching the mouth or nose after touching public surfaces, avoid people who are sick), getting proper nutrition, getting adequate rest and regular exercise. Because of the controversy surrounding the flu shot, many people focus on proper nutrition, vitamins, minerals and herbal supplements that boost and protect the immune system. Andrographis paniculata, beta glucan, olive leaf extract, quercetin, bilberry extract, L-cysteine, magnesium, manganese and zinc may all contribute to a healthier immune system. Regular use of products containing these ingredients is considered by many in both the conventional and natural medicine communities to be an effective alternative to the yearly flu shots. These products alone cannot guarantee proper nutrition, but by eating a well-balanced diet, taking a daily multi-vitamin and an immune system booster, an annual flu shot for a healthy adult or teenager may be unnecessary.
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