The Flu Shot: the Good, the Swollen and the Fevered

While we escaped without much fanfare from H1N1, the flu season has certainly made its mark on my family already. Because we’re dealing with more flu issues yet again. No, my 6yo didn’t get H1N1 – miraculously, he seems to have remained immune while his friends and brother all have succumbed to it. So I think we’re done with the pig.

However. I decided to get both of my sons the flu shot. Since it looked like we had made it through well enough with the Swine thing, I may as well cover all our bases, follow all the recommendations of our doctor and our school, and get my kids vaccinated.

No big deal, right?

That’s certainly been the case for my all swined out 3 year old. I don’t think he even cried when he was given his shot. And since then, all he has to show for it is a quarter sized red mark at the vaccination site. No biggee.

tlegNot so for my 6yo. His leg hurt him right away after he was vaccinated. And by the time he got home from school that day, he was limping and the site was sore to touch. The next morning, he woke up with a 102 degree fever. The nurse I spoke with on the phone said that this is a normal side effect. He should take some Motrin and he should be fine in a day or so. Ok. The motrin worked wonders. But when it started to wear off, his leg actually started to swell and the vaccination site started to show a patchy rash that spread up and down his thigh.

What the hell? He’s had flu shots before, but they’ve never reacted like this!

Once again, I was on the phone with the Friday night After Hours office. I need an appointment. Now.

We were there in within the hour. By then my poor kid (who was due for his Motrin) was struggling. The fever was kicking his ass. And his leg looked awful.

fluhandoutWhat did the Doctor say? Yes, his reaction IS normal. It is not an allergic reaction since my son is not allergic to eggs (thankfully). He said he is just reacting to the inactive virus that is part of the vaccination. This is not the flu, just some side effects from it. Ok. And while my 3 year old’s reaction was simply a tiny localized red spot, my older son obviously reacted quite a bit more. He said to take Motrin* every six hours without fail for the next 24 hours. We should also keep a cold compress on his leg and the swelling should be better when he isn’t feverish. And that was that.

His fever has continued today, but the Motrin helps a great deal. So does the cold compress. I am assuming he will be back to normal tomorrow or the following day.

But still. It makes me rethink this flu shot thing. Sure, it HAS been pointed out to me that even with these fairly strong reactions to the flu shot, this is better than having the flu itself. And I agree. My 3 year old had a flu shot last year and did not get the flu. My older son didn’t get the shot and he suffered with a horrible flu for a week. So yes, this IS the better option.

That said, I can’t help but feel iffy about this whole flu shot business. This foreign “inactivated influenza” stuff being shot into my kid’s leg and putting him on his ass. My poor kid.

And with all of it’s bad press recently, I never even asked about thiomersal or whether it was being used in these vaccinations. (*hanging head in shame*) And I didn’t ask about it yesterday either. (*smacking forehead*) I gather it is rarely used any longer – or if it is, it is used in very small doses.

So where does this leave my kids? Well, they’re vaccinated – and my 6 year old does seem to be soldiering back.

But next year? Would I do this again? Not after a long, hard talk with my doctor to see what to expect. Because the Swine Flu was less of a hassle for my 3 year old than the side effects of the vaccination were for my 6 year old. I know we were lucky with H1N1 – VERY lucky. And fairly unlucky with the flu shot. So I am trying to keep my head about me through all of this – but I just can’t help but feel a bit iffy… maybe I even have a little flu shot remorse.

Flu exposures, flu shots, fevers, misery, side effects of all of it… maybe there is no escape. Maybe the flu gets you one way or the other – its just a matter of how MUCH it gets you.

Regardless, I am OVER this Flu season already. I hope we’ve paid our dues. We’ve done our time. So. Leave us alone now, ok?

*Note: While I followed the directions on the Motrin bottle, the Dr. actually noted that I had been under-dosing him for his size and that might explain his further swelling and recurring fever. It was a quick reminder that I should always check in with my pediatrician regarding dosage amounts. As they grow, so does their dosage. I should know better, Chandra Wilson told me so.


#1 Jenni/mom2nji on 09.19.09 at 9:21 am

OMG poor little guy! Thiomersal is still in many shots, esp the flu vaccine. I am hearing the H1N1 vaccine is chuck full of it. Since it has yet to be proven by science that it causes Autism, its making its ways back into many vaccines.
I only give the flu shot to one of my 3 boys, because he has asthma, and the risks of the flu out weigh the risks of the shot. However seeing your poor babies leg, scares me! I hope he feels better soon!

#2 Marinka on 09.19.09 at 9:23 am

I thought I remember reading that thiormesal hasn’t been used in vaccines for a while.

Poor kid. And poor you. How scary!

#3 shriek house on 09.19.09 at 9:30 am

Oh my goodness, the poor boy! And poor you — I can understand why you’re worried. Hope you’re all feeling better soon.

#4 Nina on 09.19.09 at 11:50 am

ok, so the most shocking thing to me is the size of those 6 yr old feet. Holy Moly, that’s gonna be a tall kid. Hope he feels better real soon.

#5 Corina @ Down to Earth Mama on 09.19.09 at 2:43 pm

All I have to say is OUCH. Poor baby. I hope that he is feeling better soon, and you have recovered from the mental trauma earlier today.

#6 Monica on 09.19.09 at 5:47 pm

Ouch, OMG!! Hope he feels better really soon. That really sux.. You know I was flighty enough about the flu shot already but heck now I think I have definately made up my mind…

#7 FireMom on 09.22.09 at 6:00 am

I’m curious how the boys would react. They both have some pretty heavy sensitivities to things. I’m not sure we’ll be doing it after seeing this photo. I just don’t know.

#8 Katey on 09.22.09 at 7:55 am

Your doc should have access to a mist as well that does not contain thiomersal. Goes up there nose and is available for all over the age of two I believe. That is what we use. Sorry mama!

#9 amy on 10.06.09 at 11:53 am

Thank you so much for your blog and picture! ive been searching for crazy because my arm is doing the same thing your sons leg did, my husband and i got shots at the same time he has nothing to show for it, but me i look like i have a golfball under my skin and my whole arm is swollen and red its painful! :( poor son of yours i hope its all better now and i will be going and getting an ice pack RIGHT NOW

#10 Barb on 10.13.09 at 12:38 pm

My sons arm gets the same way after the flu shot. It’s scary. The doc told me to give him benedryl right after the shot and that does seem to help. It still swells a little but no where near as much as before. This year we are trying the Flu Mist. My biggest fear is his face will swell. I am hoping not. Any comments on the FluMist let me know before tomorrow.

#11 Lauren on 10.24.09 at 7:34 am

I’m so sorry about your son, but I’m glad he’s doing better.

I received a seasonal flu shot two days ago and there’s still a large red spot, mild swelling, and soreness. I’ve gotten a flu shot for the past 5 years and thankfully this is the most severe reaction I’ve had. It seems to vary from year to year.

But reading up on it, the swelling and fever are caused by the body producing antibodies for the virus – it thinks its under a massive attack by the virus (even though the injected virus is dead) and works to defend itself at the injection site. This is how all vaccines work – get the body to make antibodies for the dead virus so that if it ever encounters the live one it has the resources to deal with it.

As far as thimerosal goes, studies have shown that even in countries that banned it ten years ago in reaction to speculation to the association of vaccinations to autism, the autism rate remained unaffected. The same was found in California. Here’s the article I read (the california information is in the “related articles” on the right of this one):

#12 Erin in Virginia on 10.07.10 at 7:05 am

Wow – My 3.5 year old son reacted like this to the flu shot this year (Oct 2010). I’ve been trying to find any similar incidents online and this really helps me realize it’s a normal, but just a crappy reaction. He got the flumist last year and his nasal area completely swelled up overnight, so we opted for the shot this year. Guess my boy just doesn’t like the flu vaccines at all!

#13 Deb on 10.18.10 at 12:17 pm

My 7 year old son got his shot a few days ago. Been looking online for similar stories to his. His arm looks like your son’s leg. He had to take Motrin and use cold compresses as well. Not sure we will get the shot again. The mist swelled his nasal passages for quite some time last year. Thanks for posting this.

#14 Rob heeb on 10.22.10 at 5:12 pm

I think what happened is the nurses fault. It is referred to as shitty landmarking. The vaccine must be injected in to the muscle, if it gets between the subcutaneaous tissue and the muscle you have the potential for an abcess. I just revieced my yearly flu shot and I have similar symptoms; the vaccine did not get deep enough, usually it will go away in a few days, but; I have seen where the site can become infected and puss filled to the point where it has to be drained. It’s one of those things; hope for the best.

#15 Tina in Texas on 10.27.10 at 4:50 pm

Hmmmm, think I got one of those shitty shots this week as well. It has been 3 days and seems to be getting worse daily. The doctor also suggested ibuprofen at the time I left the office, which I have been doing regularly. Today I also tried benedryl. My entire upper arm is swollen and tender with a solid-red-raised rash about the size of a softball around the shot site. Another cause may be that I got TWO shots in that arm (flu and pnuemonia) and a tetanus in the other!! I have been leary of the flu shot, but figured since they were shooting me all up anyway, just go with it. Definitely will use the cold compress suggestion, sounds like a soothing treatment. Hope this doesn’t turn into some kind of abcess and will keep a close eye on it. Thanks for all of the great information here.

#16 Kim in Chicago on 11.03.10 at 5:26 pm

Glad to have found this. My 5 1/2 yr. old just had his flu shot yesterday. I didn’t get them one last year because I was afraid of crazy side affects w/ the little testing that was done. Anyway, he is red and swollen at the injection sight, but he is also visibly swollen under his arm! He’s complaining of the pain. The Motrin has helped some and we were also told to ice the swollen areas. But I think I am definitely having flu shot remorse. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Poor little guy…

#17 Cat on 11.19.10 at 7:32 pm

Thanks for the info. My hubby found it useful, 1st time son has had a bad reaction-leg looks like the poor kid from last year. No mist allowed here, I have RheArthritis. I think next year we’ll all opt out for the shot!!!

#18 Nik on 02.16.11 at 3:16 am

Rob is mistaken. Where you received the shot is completely correct. You need higher muscle mass for the shot to be more effective. Rob, going higher up on the deltoid is actually taking you even FURTHER from sub-q tissue. The sub-q tissue is on the underside of the arm.

#19 Leeann on 10.14.11 at 8:26 pm

My 8 year old got her flu vax in her arm for the first time this year ( has gotten the vax every yr since birth). And her arm looks like there is a baseball under her skin – I freaked out too – called the nurse same story motrin and a compress she told me to mark the perimeter with a pen though to keep check it doesn’t swell more if it does bring her back in tomorrow- scary stuff

#20 Megan on 11.04.11 at 7:42 pm

We just had the same experience – my four year old daughter’s leg was swollen in a similar manner about 48 hours after receiving the flu vaccine. We took her to the doctor on day four (happened over the course of a weekend, as is usually the cases for such crises) and she was prescribed prednisone, antibiotics, and an antihistamine… essentially the doctor was throwing everything at it and hoping something would stick. Today was the two week mark and it is still not entirely resoved… it is no longer swollen, and about half the size it was, and less angry looking, but still 3″ in diamater and pink. Wondering how long it will take to clear entirely and a little panicky it hasn’t entirely resolved. And yes, we did report our reaction to the CDC. What a nightmare it’s been. :(

#21 Sarah on 01.05.12 at 7:50 pm

Thank you so much for your blog!! My 4-year-old sin’s leg looks like that tonight after getting his flu shot yesterday. He has had a flu shot since he was 1, and never reacted like this before!! I was so scared when I saw his leg all swollen! But, I’m glad to know that your Dr. Says it is normal. I hope your son is better now!!

#22 Robin on 01.28.12 at 9:42 am

Thanks for everyone’s comments. My daughter got the flu shot at school yesterday and her arm is red and swollen as well. I had just left a message for the nurse to call me! This is her 3rd time getting the shot and has never had this reaction before!

#23 Linda on 02.25.12 at 8:30 pm

On Wednesday afternoon, my doctor recommended I get a tetnus booster shot, a whooping cough vaccine, and a shot for something called shingles. Well, Thursday morning I woke up with a red swollen left arm and aches, pains and a fever. I am sitting in my home office, missing a fun crabfeed, because my head, stomach, arm, neck and everything about me HURTS! I will never get another inoculation again! I’m 56 years old and haven’t had a cold for about 12 years. I work out 6 days a week, eat healthy and love my red wine. My wine will be my vaccine from now on. (banging my sore head)

#24 Barry on 10.15.12 at 9:01 am

Vaccines can kill. Did you know most insurance companies will not cover you on vaccines?

Ask yourself why you so scared of the flu? Ask yourself how you’re better off by getting a flu shot, but then suffering with a 102 degree fever, body aches, and limping on a swolen leg for two days?

Getting vaccines, especially for children is dangerous, and only makes money for big Pharma.

#25 Micelle on 01.21.13 at 4:15 pm

I had my first flu shot on Friday – it is now Monday and it looks really bad – red swollen & hot – looks like a spider bite to me – had mine done at the min clinic at CVS – went to show them today & they wanted 76 dollars to even talk to me about it – I am 42years old and have no insurance nor do I have 76 dollards to throw away – needless to say I will NEVER get another flu shot !!

#26 Swollen too :( on 01.29.13 at 11:08 pm

I got my flu shot yesterday and my arm has a swollen welt the size of a golf ball. Its hot and itchy and painful. Im a 26 y/o female who has had all my other vaccines amd never reacted like this. Super scary!! Word to the wise, let your kids get the flu! The side effects of this vaccine are not worth it!

#27 Jeannette on 10.06.13 at 6:21 pm

I’m glad I saw this website. I actually turned 65 this year and got the pneumonia and flu shot. My arm got a little red from the pneumonia shot, but the spot where the flu shot was given is still, after four days, swollen and has a large red area. It did stop hurting under the armpit yesterday. I just read that over 65 they give a stronger dose because our immune system is supposedly not working anymore. I wish they would have asked, because I am pretty healthy and have an excellent immune system (hardly ever get sick even when everyone else in the family does.) Anyway, you have helped me hope that this will go away. I also had a lot of nausea the first couple days. I did not, however, get a fever. Lucky me.

#28 Nicole on 10.21.13 at 5:17 pm

I know some of these comments are a few years old, so opinions may have changed since they were posted, but the possibility of an adverse reaction to the vaccine is definitely worth the risk, especially for children, the elderly, and those with otherwise compromised immune systems. The risk of a vaccine related fatality is minute at best, whereas the flu death toll increases every year due to strain mutations. You’re not told to get your kids vaccinated simply to prevent them from feeling badly if they catch the virus; you do it because people die from the flu. Having a sore arm and feeling a little sick for a few days is a lot better than this alternative.

As for the autism/vaccine correlation…there is none. The researcher who suggested this lied and falsified data in his study and many other researchers have since disproven the theory. Autism is NOT caused by vaccinations.

#29 Debbie on 11.14.13 at 8:50 am

I am a 43 year old female,I got my flu shot monday and still thursday my are is bruised and swollen like a golf ball afraid to get the kids done they always get sick from it!

#30 Allison on 11.22.13 at 12:08 pm

You’re absolutely right. If the flu itself doesn’t get you, the side effects from the flu shot will. It’s a lose-lose situation.

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