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Dateline: 10/18/99

Influenza, known as the flu," is a viral infection of the respiratory system that can be severe, or even life-threatening, for some people. With flu season starting soon in North America, and the optimum time for getting your flu shot between October and mid-November, many thyroid patients currently have questions regarding whether or not they should get a flu shot.

First, remember to always check with your doctor for guidelines and advice regarding your own situation. But in general, here are some considerations.

I consulted with both the Thyroid Society for Education & Research and the Thyroid Foundation of America. The Thyroid Society's Medical Director, Dr. Sheldon Rubenfeld, indicated that he did not feel that there were any special reasons why a thyroid patient who was not already a member of an influenza risk group should get a flu shot. The Thyroid Foundation of America indicated that they have no position on flu shots for thyroid patients.

While I'm not a doctor, I'd say that I don't agree with this recommendation for people with autoimmune thyroid disease like Hashimoto's Thyroiditis and Graves' Disease. We know that people with autoimmune diseases have malfunctioning immune systems. We often have a more difficult time fighting off or receuperating from infection. Many of us find ourselves getting more colds, and taking longer to recover from them. We're more susceptible to allergies and asthma. Wounds can even heal more slowly. It makes sense to me that if there's a safe and effective vaccine that will offer tremendous protection from the flu, that it would also make sense to take advantage of this, rather than exposing ourselves to what might be an increased risk of getting the flu, and a longer receuperation time getting over the flu.

Lending some support to my opinion, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have developed influenza guidelines for the 1999-2000 flu season recommend a flu shot for "adults and children who have required regular medical follow-up or hospitalization during the preceding year because of chronic metabolic diseases..."

Generally, according to the CDC, influenza vaccine is specifically recommended for people who are at high risk for developing serious complications as a result of influenza infection. These high-risk groups include all people aged 65 years or older and people of any age with chronic diseases of the heart, lung or kidneys, diabetes, immunosuppression, or severe forms of anemia. Specifically, the CDC's recommendations include:

"Influenza vaccine is strongly recommended for any person aged >6 months who -- because of age or underlying medical condition -- increased risk for complications of influenza. Groups at increased risk of influenza complications include:
  1. Persons aged 65 years or older.
  2. Residents of nursing homes and other chronic-care facilities housing patients of any age who have chronic medical conditions.
  3. Adults and children with chronic disorders of the pulmonary or cardiovascular systems, including children with asthma.
  4. Adults and children who have required regular medical follow-up or hospitalization during the preceding year because of chronic metabolic diseases (including diabetes mellitus), renal dysfunction, hemoglobinopathies, or immunosuppression (including immunosuppression caused by medications).
  5. Children and teenagers (6 months-18 years) who are receiving long-term aspirin therapy and therefore may be at risk for developing Reye syndrome after influenza.
  6. Women who will be in the second or third trimester of pregnancy during the influenza season

Even alternative medicine expert Dr. Andrew Weil recommends, generally, "if a really virulent flu is coming, I'd take a flu shot...in an ordinary year I recommend flu shots only to people who have chronic respiratory illness or who are elderly, debilitated or have compromised respiration for any reason."

What is the Flu?

The flu is far more than a cold. It's a respiratory infection that can lead to pneumonia. Flu often causes fever of 100 to 103 degrees in adults, and respiratory symptoms like cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, as well as headache, muscle aches, and often extreme fatigue. Average recovery from flu in a healthy person can take from one to two weeks.

The elderly and people with chronic health problems are much more likely to develop serious complications such as pneumonia after influenza infection than are younger, healthier people.

How Can the Flu Shot Help?

The flu vaccine can greatly reduce your chance of getting the flu, the seriousness of it if it is contracted, and the chance of complications or death due to influenza.

What is the Flu Shot?

The flu shot is made up of inactive flu virus, which stimulates an immune reaction to the current strains of flu. The only type of influenza vaccine that has been licensed in the United States at present is made from dead influenza viruses -- NOT LIVE viruses, as many people erroneously report -- which cannot cause flu infection. It's generally given in the upper arm, and does not hurt much at all.

Are There Side Effects?

The flu shot causes no side effects in most people. The most serious side effect is a rare allergic reaction in those with severe allergy to eggs, since the viruses used in the vaccine are grown in hens' eggs. For this reason, people who have an allergy to eggs should not receive influenza vaccine.

The main side effect, according to the CDC, is a bit of soreness in the arm in "less than one-third of those who receive vaccine." Also, about 5% to 10% of people experience mild side effects, such as headache or low-grade fever for about a day after vaccination. Today's vaccines, unlike the less refined vaccines from the 1940s to the 1960s, do not cause more serious side effects or cause someone to "get the flu."

When Should You Get Your Flu Vaccine?

In the United States, peak flu season is from November until April, so the best time to get your flu shot is between September and mid-November. It takes about 1 to 2 weeks after vaccination for antibody against influenza to develop and provide protection.

Note: For me, the flu shot is a great idea. I don't want to risk a long receuperation and more stress on my overall health! I've had a flu shot every year for the past seven years. I haven't had the flu in the past seven years, and I used to get it periodically prior to getting my flu shots.

For More Information:

If you want to discuss issues related to losing weight with thyroid disease, you can meet and exchange info, experiences and support with me and other thyroid patients at my Thyroid Bulletin Boards, or at the Chatroom.

There are new developments happening all the time in the world of health, and even in conventional and alternative thyroid disease treatment. These developments are covered here at the site. To make sure you don't miss any new information that might help, I put out a regular About.com Thyroid Newsletter that provides free updates on new features and new information here at the website. It's the best way to keep up with what's new here at the About.com Thyroid Website. You can subscribe at the About.com Thyroid Site Newsletter Signup page or right here,

Subscribe to the Newsletter

I also report on the latest in-depth news in thyroid disease and treatment options in my free Thyroid Disease email report, called Sticking Out Our Necks. This information-packed free monthly report is filled with the latest conventional and alternative news from around the world related to thyroid disease, related symptoms and conditions, and the drugs, treatments, alternative remedies, and other information you need to feel well. Send me an email at mshomon@pop.dn.net with the subject "Subscribe newsletter" to sign up.

And finally, I also have a new book coming out later this year, Living Well With Hypothyroidism: What Your Doctors Don't Tell You...That You Need to Know, from HarperCollins/Avon's WholeCare Line. The book provides in-the-trenches, practical patient-oriented advice on how to find the right doctor to diagnose and treat various forms of hypothyroidism, the drugs for hypothyroidism you and your doctor may not know about, fertility and successful pregnancy with hypothyroidism, alternative therapies for hypothyroidism and its symptoms and side effects, combatting weight gain and successful weight loss, depression, and much more. It's a complete manual of living well for anyone with hypothyroidism, whether due to congenital hypothyroidism, thyroid surgery, radiation, or autoimmune disease. If you'd like advance notification of the book, send me an email at mshomon@pop.dn.net with the subject "Notify Book" and I'll be sure you receive personal notification from me when the book is coming out.


Whether it's a free email newsletter or report about thyroid disease, the latest books that help you live well with your thyroid condition, or support and information from fellow thyroid patients, you'll find a variety of resources here at the About Thyroid site to help you understand your thyroid disease and pregnancy.

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  • Thyroid Forums -- A Place for Support, Empowerment, and Information -- Here are some of the latest discussions at the Thyroid Disease Forum/Bulletin Board, one of seven active thyroid forums I oversee. Jump into the conversations now!

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