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University of Iowa News Release

Oct. 31, 2003

Getting A Flu Shot Can Be A Nice Gift For You And Loved Ones

The season of giving is approaching, and many people are selecting gifts for family and friends. You might not think of a flu shot as a nice present but consider this: Getting a flu shot for yourself can do more than keep you from missing work, school or holiday festivities -- it can keep you from passing the disease on to your grandma or your newest little nephew.

"The flu vaccine is the best way a person can protect themselves -- and their loved ones -- against influenza," said Beth Houlahan, nurse and clinical director of the University of Iowa Family Care Center with UI Health Care. "October and November are the best months to get vaccinated, although vaccination in December or later still provides considerable protection."

At the UI Family Care Center, people can request the flu vaccine when they are visiting for a regularly scheduled check-up, or they can call and make arrangements for a shot. The center offers the vaccine to anybody who is eligible, including family members who accompany others on office visits. Many flu vaccine programs also are available through workplaces, pharmacies and personal physician offices. To schedule an appointment for a flu vaccine, contact your personal physician or call the UI Family Care Center at 319-384-7222.

"Getting the flu vaccine doesn't always prevent you from getting influenza, but it often minimizes the extent to which the disease can affect you," Houlahan said.

Each year about 114,000 people in the United States are hospitalized for influenza or illnesses that develop from the flu, such as pneumonia, and nearly 36,000 die of flu or its related complications, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Flu shots are recommended by the CDC for people at greater risk of contracting the virus, including those age 65 and older and women who will be more than three months pregnant during the flu season. The shots also are recommended for adults and children with chronic health conditions such as diabetes, asthma, heart disease, cancer and AIDS or HIV.

Houlahan said the UI, like the CDC, also urges shots for children ages 6 to 23 months, and encourages the vaccination for children ages 2 and older, especially those who are in daycare and school, where the flu can become "rampant."

Some people hesitate to get a flu shot because they are concerned about side effects, Houlahan noted. However, mild effects such as soreness or redness around the injection area occur in only about one in three people who get the shot, and more severe reactions are rare. Houlahan recommends that people visit and enter the key word "flu" for more information about the safety and other aspects of flu shots.

People with certain conditions or allergies should not get flu shots, including individuals with a history of Guillian-Barré syndrome or allergies to latex, egg or thimersol (a preservative found in vaccines and products such as contact lens solution). These individuals can ask their doctors about receiving antiviral medications that, while not able to prevent the flu, do decrease the severity of symptoms.

Houlahan said the UI Family Care Center is not advocating use of Flu Mist, a new nasal spray vaccine. A flu shot does not contain any active flu virus, but Flu Mist does. As a result, a person who gets Flu Mist risks passing flu virus on to others with weakened immune systems.

There are three different types of influenza virus. Types A and B are the most severe and are associated with epidemics; type C causes very mild or no illness. The flu vaccine developed each year helps ward off types A and B.

"Types A and B are the ones that change each year," Houlahan explained. "Different strains circulate annually around the world, and our bodies' natural defenses can't keep up with the changes. These are what prompt the new vaccine to be developed each year."

In addition to getting a flu shot, individuals can protect themselves by limiting direct contact with others who are ill and practicing good hygiene such as thorough hand washing (use hot water, soap and wash up to and include the wrists).

For more information about the flu, visit the CDC site

University of Iowa Health Care describes the partnership between the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine and UI Hospitals and Clinics and the patient care, medical education and research programs and services they provide. Visit UI Health Care online at

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Health Science Relations, 5137 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-1178

CONTACTS: Flu shot appointments: UI Family Care Center, 319-384-7222; Media only: Becky Soglin, Writer, 319-335-6660,