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Medical English / By Tom Secrest

Something New for Halloween: Trick or Flu Shot

Each autumn, along with the arrival of pumpkins, ghosts and goblins, we start hearing Public Health announcements reminding us that it’s time for our annual flu shot, or as the British would say, our annual flu jab. Most people shrug off the suggestion, feeling that they are constitutionally strong enough to handle four or five days of a running nose, a slight fever, muscle aches and joint pains. For the most part they are probably right. Part of their apathy stems from busy schedules; however, some comes from stories they have heard about people who got the flu shot and then got the flu and some comes from rising public apprehension regarding vaccines in general, especially after the swine flu fiasco of 2009.

There’s not much I can say about the Swine Flu–Chicken Little situation, or perhaps I have more to say than a have paper to say it. Either way it’s not the topic of this article. On the other hand I can quickly and easily cast aside the myth about getting the flu from a flu vaccine: It can’t happen, it doesn’t happen and it won’t happen to you. Some people may have very, very mild flu-like symptoms (usually in the form of muscle aches) for 24 hours, but that’s usually the extent of it. If you actually come down with the flu after the vaccine, it simply means you were already infected when you got the vaccine or you were infected very shortly after getting the flu vaccine. The vaccine takes 2-3 weeks to work, so if you’re already infected when you get your flu shot or you are infected shortly after, you will still get sick, but it’s not because of the vaccine.

Even though there are many people who opt out of the annual flu shot, many people, including myself, go out of their way to find the time needed to get the jab. People get the flu shot for many reasons; some are specific health related reasons, while others, this would include me, find it much easier to find an hour to get a flu shot than to find 4 or 5 days when we can stay home sick.

Perhaps you’ve been sitting on the fence just waiting for that little piece of information that prompts you to become a regular flu shot recipient. Well this might be the piece of news you’ve been waiting for.

A new study from the United Kingdom, published in the September 21, 2010 issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal, found that the flu vaccine is associated with a 20% reduction in the risk of a first heart attack or myocardial infarction (MI). Any way you cut it, 20% is nothing to sneeze at. The authors noted that there was no reduction associated with the pneumococcal vaccine, which is also routinely recommended for those with pre-existing health complications.

The study also found two things that were a bit surprising; (1) earlier vaccinations (i.e. given before the middle of November) were associated with greater reductions in the risk of a first MI than vaccinations given after the middle of November and (2) the benefits extended to those aged from 40 to 65 in the same way as those 65 and older.

Historically, flu shots have been aggressively recommended only for those over 65. In an interview with Heartwire, the lead author, Dr. Siriwardena, was asked if he thought flu vaccine recommendations needed to be changed. Dr. Siriwardena responded that recommendations won’t likely be changed until the cause and effect of the MI risk reduction was established, but added that if it is established, recommendations might be extended to those between the age of 40 and 65 who are at increased risk of heart attacks (i.e. smokers, those with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, etc.).

Now when you consider the inconvenience of going to get a flu shot you must also consider the inconvenience of having a heart attack. With a potential 20% reduction in your risk, finding the time seems like a pretty good value. Remember, don’t delay, the study showed you can reduce your risk even more if you get your flu shot before the middle of November.

Live long and well.


  • flu shot (flu jab) – očkování proti chřipce
  • pumpkin – dýně, tykev
  • ghost – strašidlo, duch, přízrak
  • goblin – skřítek, šotek
  • shrug off – oklepat se; stavět se zády
  • rising – rostoucí
  • apprehension – obava, názor, představa
  • opt out – rozhodnout se k neúčasti; rozhodnout se k
  • increased – zvětšený, vzrůstající
  • consider – považovat, vzít v úvahu
  • seem – zdát se (jevit se), připadat (zdát se být)
  • delay – otálet, odkládat


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