Greater fears about contagious diseases, likely sparked by the recent panic over Ebola, have put this year's flu vaccine in high demand. And that's a good thing, say infectious disease experts. Even though there is currently no vaccine for Ebola and the flu vaccine won't protect you against anything but some strains of influenza, this spike could save a lot of lives.
Thanks to two new scientific developments this year, the CDC has updated its flu guidelines. Officially, experts recommend everyone over six months old get the flu shot or mist, with rare exceptions, but this year they're really pushing the vaccine for pregnant women. In the past, women have worried about the safety of getting the shot while gestating but a new study confirms how important it is.
"The protection that the woman builds up passes through the placenta and goes into the newborn baby and helps protect that newborn baby during the first six months of its life when the baby is too young to be vaccinated itself. And, so, there's a double reason to vaccinate pregnant women," said Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, to NPR.
In addition to pregnant moms and infants, young children are also a very vulnerable group. So not only is it important they get immunized against the flu but this year the CDC has changed its recommendation to say that kids between ages 2 and 8 should now get the FluMist rather than the traditional shot. Several new studies found that because of the way it's made — from a weakened live virus rather than a dead virus — the FluMist confers a stronger protection that lasts longer. (Bonus: No needles for terrified tots!)
Lastly, there's the newly approved mega-vaccine that gives you four times the dose of the regular one. While it's generally recommended just for the elderly or people with compromised immune systems, a new study found the high dose was 24 percent more effective at preventing the flu: "any influenza, no matter what circulated, no matter what strain it was." If you or someone in your household suffers from immune issues it's worth chatting with your doctor about it. The researchers found the only notable side effect was increased arm soreness for a couple of days.
But no matter what type of flu vaccine you decide to get, according to the experts, the important thing is to get immunized.
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