Every flu season, the government and much of the medical community promote flu vaccinations for millions of Americans. Should you get the vaccine? Here's what you need to know to make your decision...

There are two types of vaccines...

The flu shot contains inactive (killed) virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that it can be given to anyone older than six months of age, including healthy people, pregnant and nursing women and those who have chronic medical conditions.

The other form is a nasal-spray vaccine called FluMist. It contains attenuated (weakened) live viruses and should be used only by healthy people. Because FluMist involves live viruses, it should not be used by those who come in contact with people who have severely suppressed immune systems (such as transplant recipients or AIDS patients).

In addition, according to the CDC, the nasal spray vaccine should not be used by...

· Children younger than five years of age

· People age 50 and older.

· People who have a medical condition that places them at high risk for complications from influenza, including those who have chronic heart or lung disease, such as asthma or reactive airway disease...those who have diabetes or kidney failure...those who have illnesses that weaken the immune system...or anyone who takes medications that can weaken the immune system.

· Children or adolescents taking aspirin.

· People who have a history of Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare nervous system disorder.

· Pregnant or nursing women.

· People who have a history of allergy to any components of the vaccine or to eggs.

One of my biggest problems with the flu shot is that it contains thimerosal, a preservative that contains mercury.

Mercury is a known immune-system suppressant and is toxic to the nervous system. In my opinion, it can be particularly harmful to pregnant women because it exposes the fetus to mercury. Infants are not able to detoxify mercury effectively, and it can cause nerve and brain damage in children.

Some scientific evidence shows that thimerosal in vaccines leads to health problems, so in 1999 the US Public Health Service and the American Academy of Pediatrics-along with vaccine manufacturers-agreed that thimerosal should be reduced or eliminated from vaccines as a precaution. It has since been removed from childhood vaccines, yet manufacturers still are using thimerosal in the adult flu vaccine.

However, a preservative-free vaccine in a single-dose syringe is available. It contains only trace amounts of thimerosal-a residual from early manufacturing steps. Thimerosal is used as a preservative in an amount less than 1 micro_ gram (mcg) of mercury per 0.5 milliliter (mL) dose. The regular injectable version contains 25 mcg mercury/0.5 mL dose. Ask your doctor about it if you are getting a shot.

For people who have a choice between types of flu vaccine, I recommend FluMist, which contains no mercury and is often available at pharmacies without a prescription.

The flu can be life-threatening for some people. For that reason, if you have risk factors for developing complications from the flu (see below) and aren't eligible to use FluMist, I recommend that you consider getting a preservative-free flu shot in October or November. If a preservative-free vaccine is not available to you, you should still get a flu shot if you fall into any of the following groups...

· Anyone age 65 and older.

· Residents of nursing homes or other long[1]term-care facilities that house people of any age who have chronic medical conditions.

· Anyone who has chronic disorders of the pulmonary or cardiovascular system.

· Anyone who has required hospitalization or regular medical follow-up during the preceding year because of chronic metabolic diseases -(including diabetes), renal dysfunction, blood cell disorders or immunosuppression (including that caused by medication or by human immunodeficiency virus, also known as HIV).

· Children and adolescents ages six months to 18 years who are receiving long-term aspirin therapy and, therefore, might be at risk for experiencing Reye’s syndrome after influenza infection.

· Children ages six months to 23 months.

· Women who will be pregnant during the influenza season.

For my healthy patients, I recommend focusing on powerful, natural cold-and flu fighting strategies rather than vaccination.

The Possibility Of A Flu Pandemic

Experts are concerned about a global flu epidemic (pandemic) that could kill millions around the world-and it is quite possible. Consider the three influenza pandemics of the 20th century...

The Spanish flu of 1918 affected 20% to 40% of the world's population and killed more than 50 million people-675,000 people died in the US alone. The 1957 Asian flu pandemic resulted in approximately 70,000 deaths, and many still remember the 1968 Hong Kong flu that took the lives of more than 34,OOO Americans.

In August 2004, Tommy G. Thompson, then Secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services, unveiled the departments Pandemic Influenza Response and preparedness Plan, which outlines a coordinated national strategy to prepare for and respond to an influenza pandemic. "This plan will serve as our road map on how we, as a nation and as a member of the global health community, respond to the next pandemic influenza outbreak, whenever that may be," he said at the time.

Recently, the US has been stockpiling flu vaccines, yet these are not likely to be of much help. Influenza (and other viruses) constantly change their structure just enough so that the immune system doesn't recognize them. The mutation of viruses makes it difficult for manufacturers to predict which flu strain (out of the many hundreds) will make its way to the US.

Flu vaccines are manufactured several months before flu season actually begins, so they may not be accurate at all for the incoming influenza strain. With a pandemic influenza virus, there is a sudden change in the structure of the virus, making the manufacture of a vaccine nearly impossible.

According to a Department of Health and Human Services press release, "Pandemic virus will likely be unaffected by currently available flu vaccines that are modified each year to match the strains of the virus that are known to be in circulation among humans around the world."

Normally, changes occur gradually in the influenza viruses that appear. A pandemic influenza virus is particularly dangerous due to the major, sudden shift that is seen in the virus's structure. This increases the pandemic influenza virus's ability to cause illness in a large proportion of the population.

What is your best defense? A supercharged immune system that's ready to do battle with these viral intruders

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