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Flu Shot & Alzheimer's Risk?

Harold Oster

Question :

I have been told by a pharmacist that taking the annual flu shot increases the risk of developing Alzheimer's. Is there any truth to this? I am 62 years old. Should I stop taking these shots?


Answer :

I am not aware of any study linking the influenza vaccine and Alzheimer's disease. Nor am I aware of any legitimate medical source even suggesting that this could be true.

Let me take this opportunity to correct some of the other misconceptions about the flu vaccine. First, the vaccine is made up of inactivated virus, so you cannot be infected with the flu from receiving the vaccine. There can be side effects, however. The most common, occurring in fewer than one-third of patients, is soreness at the site of the injection. Low-grade fever and mild body aches occur in fewer than 10 percent of patients.

Some people tell stories of how they became quite ill after receiving a flu shot. Some of these tales date back to the early flu vaccines, which did have substantial side effects. There were even cases of neurologic damage in people who received the early flu vaccine -- and other vaccines, for that matter. But these side effects would be very rare today.

One reason that some people relate terrible flu-like symptoms to the flu vaccine is simple. More than one-fifth of the population develops the flu each year, usually in flu season. The flu shot is given during flu season, but it does not take effect for up to two weeks. If a person develops the flu by sheer coincidence within a few days of getting the shot, that person may believe that he or she got the flu from the flu vaccine. It is simply not so.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta recommends that all people age 65 and older receive the flu vaccine. It is also recommended for people with underlying medical conditions, for those who care for the elderly or chronically ill and for anyone else who wants it. The shot can prevent flu in up to 90 percent of cases. The risk of an elderly person dying from the flu can be reduced by up to 85 percent. To me, the minor side effects and minuscule risk of a serious side effect are outweighed by these benefits.



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