Should I Get the Flu Shot if I have Autoimmune Encephalitis?
October 5, 2018 | Barbara Vujaklija, RN
‘Tis the season. No, put away the holiday cards and gift wrap, I’m talking about Flu season. IAES has received a few inquiries recently about whether or not Autoimmune Encephalitis patients should or can get the flu shot. So, I thought I would share a few facts about the flu shot and how it relates to AE warriors.
First of all, there are two types of flu vaccination available, the shot and the nasal spray. DO NOT TAKE THE NASAL SPRAY. The difference between the two is that the nasal spray is a weakened live form which we CANNOT have and the shot is NOT live so we CAN take it. The flu shot has gone through a process that kills the virus while leaving particles that provoke an immune response against the flu. ALWAYS check with your doctor or at least let your Primary Care Provider (PCP) know that you plan to take the shot.
“I don’t get the flu shot because it gives me the flu”. Boy I wish I had a dime for every time I heard that one. Yes, you can feel sick after the flu shot but while it’s normal to feel soreness, redness, tenderness, or even develop a mild fever or body aches during the two days after you get vaccinated, that’s just your immune system responding. It is NOT the flu illness itself. The shot primes your immune system to recognize the flu should you become exposed to it. This is why you will have mild flu symptoms while your system gets ready to fight off the real thing should you become exposed. If you do get the full blown virus after a shot, you were already infected before you got the shot and were going to get sick anyway.
The Centers for disease Control (CDC) has a great paper I highly recommend: Vaccination: Who Should Do It, Who Should Not and Who Should Take Precautions
Basically everyone over the age of 6 months should get vaccinated unless they have an allergy to any part of the vaccine. For instance an allergy to eggs, as the virus used in the vaccine is grown in eggs, would be a reason NOT to get the flu shot.
How we get the vaccine every year is a fascinating journey. Researchers from the World Health Organization (WHO), start after the current season is over and test poultry and pigs in the East (China etal) for the next predominant strains for the coming season. Then a special panel of scientists and doctors decide which strains are most likely to be predominant the next season. Do they always get it right? Nope! But it is more often right than wrong and is the best system we have. The manufacturing process takes the rest of the year which is why they start so early risking mutations along the way.
“Should my family get the shot?” YES the CDC recommends that all household members and frequent visitors get vaccinated to help protect those of us with low immune systems. Except those under 6 months or with a valid reason not to take the vaccination. Ask sick people to stay away and avoid crowded indoor spaces during the season which lasts from fall to winter with peak season November through March, to avoid catching any mutated strain that is not in the vaccination.
Another question I frequently hear is, “If I get the shot too early it will run out before the season is over”. There is no perfect time to get your flue shot, but when I worked at the County Health Department we advised people to get the shot late September or early October. The antibodies take about 2 weeks to produce a major response so you will be protected by mid October and will generally last for the entire season. Some doctors prefer that you take it at a different time. Check with your PCP if you are unsure. Peak flu season is November to February but can be in your community in September and October. So unless your PCP says otherwise, as soon as possible is best.
You can help protect yourself by practicing good health hygiene. WASH YOUR HANDS OFTEN, try not to touch your mouth and face, stay out of crowded indoor spaces and ask sick people to stay away while they are ill.
If you have further questions, please e-mail me at admin IAES@autoimmune-encephalitis.org
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