To get the flu shot, or not to get the flu shot; is the question that many chronic pain patients must answer at this time of year. For individuals living with chronic conditions such as fibromyalgia, neuropathy, arthritis, or RSD, getting the flu shot can be a tough call. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of research for United States pain specialists to base an answer. In most cases, the answer is based on patient experiences, pain, and chronic condition.
For the most part, pain specialists will recommend the flu vaccine for patients who have had the vaccination before and have tolerated them well, and for patients who have a serious chronic illness such as emphysema, diabetes, or a heart condition in addition to chronic pain.
Another aspect to consider is how much exposure you normally have to the flu virus. Are you a schoolteacher? A health care provider? Hold a job or have responsibilities that often take you out of the house during flu season?
What’s Better? The Flu or Chronic Pain
In some cases, patients who live with chronic conditions such as fibromyalgia and RSD feel a bit more “normal” when they have the flu. Some pain specialists believe this is because the flu virus stimulates the immune system, which can naturally improve how the immune system tolerates other conditions, such as the ones that cause chronic pain.
Influenza, while it can strike at any time of the year, is most prevalent in the winter months and the reason for this is likely because people spend more time indoors in closer contact with other individuals. Add to that that there are two different flu seasons – one in each hemisphere, the northern and the southern – and you’re looking at breakouts twice a year. Because the strains mutate easily and often, the vaccine that was offered a year ago – sometimes even six months ago – isn’t the same strain that individuals are getting vaccinated for today. While getting a flu shot isn’t necessarily a guarantee that you won’t get stricken with the flu it is the only effective way to prevent the flu that is available today. You’ve probably heard the stories of people who get a flu shot then get the flu regardless – the reason for this is because of its ability to mutate.
The World Health Organization decides on the strains of flu vaccine that will be offered based on the most prevalent strains found to be infecting people in recent months. The virus given in the flu shot is a strain of dead viruses and following the injection, your body will develop antibodies to the flu without developing the symptoms of the flu. The vaccine is recommended for the very old, the very young, and those who have compromised immune systems.
In all situations, your best bet is to discuss whether or not to get a flu shot with your pain specialist.
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