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Sunday, April 5, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Ask the doctors: Special flu shot for older people has more antigen

By Eve Glazier, M.D. , , Elizabeth Ko and M.D. Andrews McMeel Syndication

Dear Doctor: Our 76-year-old mom is nervous about getting the special Fluzone shot for older people because a neighbor told her it will make her sick. Is that true?

Dear Reader: Influenza, commonly referred to as the flu, is a seasonal respiratory illness with symptoms similar to those of the common cold.

Flu season in the United States is concentrated in the fall and winter. Peak activity occurs from December to February. Symptoms show up from one to four days after infection. Depending on the flu strain, as well as the general health of the individual, it can take as long as two weeks for the disease to run its course. Most people recover completely. However, at-risk populations with weaker immune systems, such as the elderly, are at increased risk of complications.

The special flu shot you refer to is called Fluzone High-Dose, a vaccine that contains four times as much antigen as the standard dose. Antigen is the part of the vaccine that causes the body to build up immunity. As we age, our immune response to influenza vaccines declines. Recent studies have found the high-dose vaccine to be 25% more effective at preventing infection in the elderly. It is also associated with a lower rate of hospitalizations among those who do get the flu. However, it’s also true that side effects to the high-dose vaccine are slightly more frequent than to the standard-dose version.

People getting either type of vaccine may experience side effects. They are reported to be mild and temporary, lasting less than a day or two.

Whether your mother overcomes her fear of the high-dose vaccine or opts for the standard-dose variety, we think that the most important thing is for her to get a flu vaccine, no matter which kind, as soon as possible. You should get one, too. In fact, all of our readers should get the flu shot.

Send your questions to askthedoctors@mednet.ucla.edu.

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