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NorthSide Reaction

Flu shots are a pain in the arm

Heading to get your annual flu shot?  Get tips on ways to quell that achy pain in your arm, general info on this year’s vaccine, and the CDC’s response to the Blockbuster movie Contagion.

You’ve no doubt seen the ads and notices on TV, in the paper, at hospitals, in your doctor’s office and  at all the big-name pharmacies and grocery stores.  It’s the start of cold and flu season, and it’s time to get your annual flu shot.

If you are like me, you know you should get it, and you will — but you dread it every step of the way, mostly because that annoying, achy pain in your shoulder really does hurt. 

In the past, my only plan of action was to tough it out and curse my brother a little bit, because the pain reminds me of when he would pummel my arm with “slug bug” punches when we were young. 

But this year, things are going to be different. 

Dorene Jordan, an employee health representative at Swedish Covenant Hospital (who gently administered my flu shot just hours ago), informed me that there are very easy ways to quell flu shot pain:

1. Do pushups or Yoga sunrise salutations
“Your arm aches and might swell in the first few days because the vaccine is still sitting right there in your muscle where it was injected,” Jordan said. “Using your arm gets the blood moving, which will work the vaccine through your body faster, and diminish the pain.”

She recommends that you exercise and start moving your arm as much as possible right after you get the shot — before the pain sets in — for this method to be most effective.

2. Apply a cold compress
“A cold compress on your arm is an immediate, local anti-inflammatory, so it will help reduce swelling and pain.”

3. Take an aspirin
“For longer-term pain relief, take an aspirin and let it do its work.”

She noted that these steps will also work for other types of vaccines that can be painful, including HPV and tetanus shots.

Flu serum 2011

Now that I’ve taken an aspirin and done a few push-ups, my arm feels a bit better. But I find myself wondering why the flu vaccine came out so early this year.

Gregg Gonzaga of the Infection Control department at Swedish Covenant Hospital explained that the 2011 flu vaccine is the same serum from last year, so it took less time to develop and distribute.

“Most years there is a new vaccine based on what experts predict will be the most common three strains of flu. This year, the viruses that were common last year — H1N1, H3N2 and Influenza B — are still active and very common, so the serum didn’t change.”

So did I really need to get another shot this year, since I got it last year?? Absolutely, according to Gonzaga and the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

“It is highly recommended that all people — particularly those who are pregnant, older or health care workers — get the vaccine again this year unless they have an egg allergy,” Gonzaga said. “The antibodies created from last year’s shot may not be strong enough to protect you a year later.”

He recommends that anyone with questions about common viruses, flu vaccines and how they are developed should get their information directly from the CDC. 

One final thought

Last week, my husband and I went to see Contagion, a fictional blockbuster based on the ways real viruses spread and the threat they pose to people around the world.

After we left the theater I immediately washed my hands. Twice.

It was pretty scary because it was realistic. The CDC thought so too. A few weeks ago they released an official response to the movie, recognizing the real-life scientists and researchers who work to identify and control viruses and disease. The article links to details about life-saving research going on right now. Worth a read.