What is the flu vaccine for?
The flu vaccine offers the best protection available against contracting the flu. The flu virus can affect people of all ages and is an unpleasant but usually self-limiting illness. The common symptoms include fever, cough, cold, chills, headache, muscle aches and severe tiredness. For some more vulnerable groups, such as young children, older people and individuals with health conditions (including neuromuscular conditions), contracting the flu is more likely to lead to serious and life-threatening complications such as pneumonia or bronchitis.
The vaccine is available annually, as the protection it offers gradually decreases as time goes on. The virus that causes flu also often changes and so the vaccine is regularly adapted to reflect the newest strain.
Who should have the flu shot?
Anyone can have the flu shot (injection), but for certain groups it is recommended that they have one every year. The more vulnerable groups that should receive the yearly vaccine include:
- Everyone over the age of 65
- Children and adults with underlying health conditions (such as respiratory disease, heart disease and neuromuscular conditions)
- Children and adults with a weak immune system owing to an underlying disease or treatment
- Pregnant women.People who want to have the flu jab but aren’t eligible to get one for free can request one from their GP or pharmacy, at a small charge.
Why should a person with a muscle-wasting condition get vaccinated against the flu?
The flu shot is recommended for people living with neuromuscular conditions because of the additional risk the flu virus presents with some health conditions. Pediatricians and general practitioners should consider people with neuromuscular conditions a priority to have the vaccine. An additional reason to take up the offer of the vaccine is the related implications for respiratory and cardiac health in some neuromuscular conditions. This is because contracting the flu can have a more serious effect on people who have heart or breathing difficulties as part of their neuromuscular condition. If you aren’t sure if your condition could cause, please ask your doctor.
If I am on a chronic steroid regimen, should I get the flu shot?
Medications such a steroids may affect or compromises your immune system therefore, patients on these chronic steroid regimens are encouraged to get the flu vaccine. Being immunocompromised can increase your chance of contracting flu as it makes fighting the virus more difficult. For this reason, there is a recommendation for getting the vaccine in the immunocompromised community. If you’re unsure if your medication affects your immune system, seek the advice from the doctor that prescribed this medication to you.
Is the flu vaccine safe?
With all vaccines, there is a small risk of allergic reaction. These usually present soon after getting vaccinated, and the staff who administer the vaccines are able to recognize such allergic reactions and know how to treat them immediately. If you have previously had an allergic reaction to a flu vaccine, it is important that you discuss this with your doctor before getting any further immunizations.
There is no evidence to suggest that people with muscle-wasting conditions are at any greater risk of allergic reactions to the flu vaccine than anyone else, as long as they don’t have any other underlying conditions.
Is the nasal spray vaccine safe?
The nasal spray is another way of getting the vaccine. This, however, is not safe for anyone who is immunocompromised.
Because the nasal spray is a live vaccine, it should not be given to children who are immunocompromised, as it can cause a severe flu illness. In some neuromuscular conditions, such as Duchenne muscular dystrophy, children are routinely prescribed corticosteroids and these cause them to become immunocompromised. These children should receive the injectable flu vaccine instead of the nasal spray. If they have siblings who are due to have the nasal spray, the child who is immunocompromised should receive their vaccine at least two weeks before their siblings are immunized. This will give the vaccine time to work before children may become exposed to the live bacteria.
Can me or my child get the flu from the flu vaccine?
You cannot get the flu from the injection as it is an inactivated virus (meaning it is not alive).
What are the side effects of the flu vaccine?
Some people experience side-effects from the vaccine, but these are rarely serious. Some of the most common side effects are:
- Aching muscles
- Mild fever
- Redness and swelling around the injection site
Although rare, some children may also experience:
- A blocked or runny nose
- Reduced appetite
- Headache after the nasal vaccine
All side effect are transient and should receive themselves after a few days. There is no evidence of additional side-effects, or an increased chance of experiencing them, if you have a neuromuscular condition.
Should my family members and carers also be vaccinated?
If you get the flu vaccine, it is recommended that anyone you regularly come into contact with should also have get one. This is because while the vaccine offers the best available protection, it is still not proven to be 100% effective. You can actively decrease your risk of contracting the flu, by vaccinating yourself and ensuring those you live with or see regularly are immunized as well.