Cold and Flu
FluMist vs. Flu Shot: Which Should I Get?
Flu Vaccination Basics
The influenza vaccine protects against the three or four strains of flu that are most likely to circulate during a particular year. It does not protect against other strains of flu that may be present. In the U.S., flu season generally runs from early October through late May. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), October is the best time to get a flu vaccine. You can still benefit from getting one later in the flu season.
Why Get Vaccinated?
The CDC says that in the U.S., over 200,000 people are admitted to the hospital with flu each year, and thousands die from complications of flu. The CDC recommends flu vaccinations for most people six months of age or older. People at the highest risk of flu complications include the very young, senior citizens, and women who are pregnant. The flu vaccine can be administered as a nasal spray (brand name FluMist®) or as a shot.
About the Nasal Spray Vaccine
The nasal spray vaccine is easily administered and offers an alternative for people who don’t like needles. This vaccine contains live viruses, but the viruses are weakened and have lost most of their disease-causing properties. It is extremely rare for the nasal spray to cause the flu. Most healthy people between the ages of two and 49 can safely take the nasal spray vaccine. The FDA has only approved inactive vaccines for people over age 50.
Who Shouldn’t Use the Nasal Spray?
Be sure to check with your doctor before taking any vaccination. You shouldn’t take the nasal spray if you have a history of allergic reactions to eggs or other components of the vaccine, or adverse reactions to vaccines in general. The nasal spray is not recommended for children who take aspirin or for pregnant women. People with asthma, HIV, chronic diseases, or a compromised immune system should not take the nasal spray. Let your doctor know if you have Guillain-Barré Syndrome or have had it in the past.
Can the Nasal Spray Spread the Flu Virus?
In very rare cases, people who use the nasal spray flu vaccine can shed viruses and potentially pass them to unvaccinated people. No serious illnesses have resulted from flu transmission due to the nasal spray, according to the CDC. This type of transmission is more likely to occur if you come in close contact with a person who has a severely weakened immune system.
Side Effects of Nasal Spray Flu Vaccine
Side effects of the nasal spray vaccine for children may include runny nose, congestion, cough, and achiness. Children may also develop a slight fever. Adults may get a runny nose, headache, sore throat, cough, aches, and fatigue. There is always a small risk of an allergic reaction to vaccines. The nasal spray flu vaccine contains no thimerosal or other preservatives. Serious complications of flu vaccine are rare.
About the Flu Shot
The flu shot is made with inactive flu virus and administered by needle into the upper arm. It causes your body to make antibodies to certain strains of the flu. It takes up to two weeks to be fully effective. You can get sick during that time if you are exposed to a flu virus. The flu shot is approved for use in most people over six months old, including many patients with chronic health conditions. The flu shot can cause minor, flu-like symptoms, but it cannot cause you to develop the flu or spread it to others.
Who Shouldn’t Get a Flu Shot?
The flu shot is safe for most people, even those with chronic diseases. However, if you have a chronic condition, it is wise to check with your doctor beforehand. You shouldn’t get the shot if you have a history of allergic reactions to flu vaccinations or eggs, or if you are running a fever. If you have this kind of history, or have ever had Guillain-Barré Syndrome, consult with your doctor before getting a flu shot.
Pros and Cons: Nasal Spray vs. Shot
Flu Nasal Spray: Easier administration, especially if you don’t like needles. Contains weakened live virus. Approved for healthy, non-pregnant people ages two to 49. Not recommended for people with chronic diseases, weakened immune systems, or for children on aspirin therapy.
Flu Shot: One shot in the upper arm does it. Contains inactive virus. Approved for most people over six months old. Acceptable for pregnant women and most people with chronic diseases.
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