The Seasonal Flu and What You Should Do
We’ve all heard of the flu, but what’s the big deal about it? Influenza, commonly called the “flu”, can be a serious illness that can lead to hospitalization and even death. So what do you need to know about the flu, and what can you do to protect yourself?
Why should people get vaccinated against the flu?
The single best way to protect against the flu is to get vaccinated each year. During flu season, flu viruses circulate among the population. An annual flu vaccine is the best way to reduce the chances that you will get the seasonal flu and spread it to others. The more that people get vaccinated against the flu, the less that the flu can spread throughout that community.
How do flu vaccines work?
Flu vaccines cause the development of antibodies in the body approximately two weeks after the vaccine is given. These antibodies provide protection against infection with the viruses that are in the vaccine. Each year, scientists determine which influenza viruses will be the most common during the upcoming flu season, and develop the seasonal flu vaccine based on that information, which is why it is essential to receive a flu shot every year.
What kind of flu vaccines are available?
The trivalent flu vaccine protects against two influenza A viruses and an influenza B virus. The following trivalent flu vaccines are available:
- Standard dose trivalent shot made using virus grown in eggs -> approved for children 6 months and older
- Standard dose trivalent shot made using virus grown in cell culture -> approved for people 18 years and older
- Standard dose trivalent shot that is egg-free -> approved for people 18-49 years
- High-dose trivalent shot -> for people 65 years and older
- Standard dose intradermal trivalent shot -> injected into the skin instead of the muscle; approved for people 18-64 years
The quadrivalent flu vaccine protects against two influenza A viruses and two influenza B viruses. The following quadrivalent flu vaccines are available:
- Standard dose quadrivalent shot
- Standard dose quadrivalent flu shot -> given as a nasal spray; approved for healthy* people 2-49 years
(*Healthy indicates people who do not have an underlying medical condition that predisposes them to influenza complications.)
One flu vaccine is not recommended over another. The important thing is to get a flu vaccine every year.
Who should get vaccinated each season?
Everyone who is at least 6 months of age. Although it is important for everyone to get a flu vaccination, it is especially important for certain people to get vaccinated. These groups include the following:
- People who are at high risk of developing serious complications if they were to get sick with the flu: pregnant women, children younger than 5 years, people older than 65 years, and those who have certain medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, and chronic lung disease).
- People who live with or care for others who are at high risk of developing serious complications: health care personnel, household contacts and caregivers of children less than 6 months of age, and household contacts and caregivers of people with certain medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, and chronic lung disease).
Note: People who have ever had a severe allergic reaction to eggs may be advised to not get vaccinated. Most types of flu vaccines contain small amount of egg. Make sure your health care provider knows about any allergic reactions.
Who should not get vaccinated?
- Children younger than 6 months of age.
- People who have had a severe allergic reaction to influenza vaccine in the past.
- Some people should first consult a physician before receiving a flu vaccine. These include people who have had a moderate-to-severe illness with or without a fever (they should wait until they recover to get vaccinated), and people with a history of Guillain-Barré Syndrome that occurred after receiving influenza vaccine and are not at risk for severe illness from influenza.
When should I get vaccinated?
Flu vaccination should begin soon after the vaccine becomes available, ideally by October. However, as long as flu viruses are circulating, vaccination should continue to be offered throughout the flu season, even in January or later.
Where can I get a flu vaccine?
Many locations offer flu vaccines, including doctor’s offices, clinics, health departments, pharmacies, college health centers, and even your site of employment.
Vaccine Side Effects (What to Expect)
A flu vaccine cannot cause flu illness. Different side effects can be associated with the flu shot and nasal spray flu vaccines. The flu shot may cause soreness, redness, or swelling where the shot was given, a low-grade fever, and body aches. The nasal spray may cause runny nose, headache, sore throat, and cough. In children, it can additionally cause vomiting, fever, and muscle aches.
For more information on the flu, visit http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/flu/guidance.html