The flu shot
A flu shot can make your life easier. A brief needle stick or nasal spray can protect you from this dangerous illness. It’s particularly important for certain groups of people, such as older adults, healthcare workers, and pregnant women, to make sure they get their flu shot.
Influenza, or the flu, is not just a simple cold. The following symptoms that often accompany the flu are more severe than the symptoms of the common cold:
- a high fever
- body aches
- a sore throat
- a cough
The flu can blindside you with its intensity and leave you feeling sick for many days. It can also lead to life-threatening complications. According to the American Lung Association, anywhere from 3,000 to 49,000 Americans die from influenza-related causes each year.
Learn how the flu vaccine may help you stay safe and healthy this flu season.
How does the flu vaccine work?
Getting an annual flu vaccine is a safe, effective way to prevent the flu. The vaccine causes your body to develop antibodies to several strains of influenza virus. These antibodies help protect your body against infection.
Many strains of influenza virus exist, and they’re constantly mutating and changing. The seasonal flu vaccine is changed every year to keep up with the three strains of the virus that research suggests will be most common in the upcoming flu season. You need to get a new vaccine every year to stay safe.
You can get the flu at any point during the year, but flu season occurs in the fall and winter. Infections tend to peak between November and March. It’s a good idea to get vaccinated in the early fall, before flu season begins.
You can receive the flu vaccine as a shot, or injection. A nasal spray option is also available.
Who needs the flu vaccine?
Everyone can benefit from the flu vaccine, but it’s crucial for people in certain groups. Getting the flu puts you at risk of secondary infections and serious complications, especially if you’re in a high-risk group. Possible complications include:
- sinus infections
- ear infections
The very young are at an increased risk of complications from the flu, and it’s important for them to stay up to date on their flu vaccinations. It’s also important to make the flu vaccine a priority if you:
- are over the age of 65 years old
- have a chronic health condition, such as diabetes, asthma, or heart disease
- have a weakened immune system
- are a healthcare worker who may be exposed to many people who are sick
Pregnant women should get vaccinated, no matter what their stage of pregnancy. If you’re pregnant, changes in your heart, lungs, and immune system make the symptoms of the flu more dangerous for you and your developing fetus. Among other dangers, getting the flu raises your risk of premature labor and delivery. Getting the flu shot will help protect you and your unborn baby, even after birth. If you’re concerned about thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative used in flu vaccines, you can request a preservative-free vaccine.
Women who are breast-feeding
If you’re breast-feeding, you should also get a flu vaccine to protect yourself and pass on protective antibodies to your baby. This will lower your baby’s risk of getting the flu. Once your baby is 6 months old, they can safely get the vaccine themselves.
Who shouldn’t get the flu vaccine?
If you want to get a flu vaccine but you’re feeling sick, ask your doctor or pharmacist if you should get immunized. If you only have a mild cold, it should be safe for you to get vaccinated. You may need to wait if you have a high fever.
Some people may not be eligible for the flu vaccine, including infants under 6 months old, people who’ve had a severe reaction to a flu vaccine in the past, and people with a history of Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS), which is a disorder that causes weakness and paralysis. In rare cases, some people have developed GBS after receiving a vaccination.
Your doctor may advise you to avoid the nasal spray in particular if you:
- are over 50 years old
- are pregnant
- have a weakened immune system
- have a chronic health condition, such as asthma, heart disease, or lung disease
- have a severe allergy to chicken eggs
Both the nasal spray and injection include egg proteins. If you’re allergic to eggs, they may cause a severe allergic reaction. However, some people with an egg allergy can safely get a flu shot. Talk to your doctor to learn if the flu vaccine is a safe option for you.
Your doctor may also advise you that your child should avoid the nasal spray if they’re between 6 months and 2 years old.
Ask your doctor if the flu vaccine is a safe option for you or your child. If it’s not, talk to your doctor about alternative ways to prevent the flu.
What are the side effects of the flu vaccine?
In general, flu vaccines are very safe. Side effects are usually mild and go away on their own. In rare cases, people experience more severe reactions.
Side effects of the injection
You can’t get the flu from getting a flu shot. A small amount of the influenza virus is used to make the flu shot. However, the final injectable vaccine doesn’t contain any live virus, and it can’t produce an active infection in your body.
You may experience soreness in the spot where you get the flu shot. That’s caused by your immune system’s reaction to the vaccine, which allows your body to produce protective antibodies to fight off the real influenza virus.
You may also experience some of the following side effects after getting the flu shot:
- a fever
- muscle aches
- a headache
A small number of people experience more severe reactions. Life-threatening allergic reactions to the flu shot are rare.
Side effects of the nasal spray
The nasal spray contains the live flu virus in a weakened form. Some people, usually children, develop some mild, flu-like symptoms after using the nasal spray.
The flu can be very uncomfortable and even life-threatening in some cases. Consider getting an annual flu vaccine to help protect yourself. It’s a safe and effective option for many people. Getting the flu vaccine is especially important for people at high risk for secondary infections and flu-related complications.
Talk to your doctor if you’re not sure if the flu vaccine is safe for you. They can help you understand the benefits and risks. They can also provide other tips for avoiding the flu and other contagious illnesses.