Flu season occurs from fall to early spring every year, and affects between 5 and 20 percent of the general population. If you are part of the population that usually gets the flu, you should consider getting the flu shot. The nasty symptoms of coughing, fever, headache, sore throat, and runny nose that come with the flu can be enough to put a damper on your work and social life for a week or more. Getting an annual flu shot can prevent you from suffering the misery of the flu and ensure that you don’t miss out on activities and events this season.
How the Flu Shot Works
The flu virus mutates and adapts every year, therefore needing a new vaccine to be created and released every year to keep up with these changes. Each year, federal health experts predict which three strains of the flu will thrive, then manufacture the appropriate vaccines. The flu shot works by helping your immune system produce antibodies to fight off the types of flu virus that are present in the vaccine, which takes about two weeks to work.
Who Should Get a Flu Shot?
Certain groups are at an increased risk for catching the flu and developing potentially dangerous flu-related complications. It’s important that people in these high risk groups be vaccinated,which include:
- pregnant women
- children between 6 months and 5 years of age
- people 18 and under who receive aspirin therapy
- people over 50
- people whose body mass index is 40 or higher
- American Indians or Alaska Natives
- anyone living or working in a nursing home or chronic care facility
- caregivers of any of the above individuals
- anyone on aspirin therapy or taking steroids
- anyone with chronic medical conditions , such as:
- heart or lung problems
- metabolic diseases
- neurological conditions, such as epilepsy
- blood conditions, such as sickle cell anemia
- kidney or liver disease
- Workers in public settings, such as:
- day care employees
- hospital workers
- public workers
- healthcare providers
- employees of nursing homes and chronic-care facilities
- home care providers
- emergency response personnel
- household members of people in those professions
- people living in close quarters like college students and military personnel
Some people may experience flu-like symptoms within 24 hours of receiving the vaccine. These are only side effects, such as low-grade fever, chills or headache, or redness around injection site, and go away with 24 hours.
Some people should not get a flu shot, such as those that:
- have had a bad reaction to the disease in the past
- are severely allergic to eggs. If you are mildly allergic, talk to your doctor, as you may still qualify for the vaccine.
- are allergic to mercury. Some flu vaccines contain trace amounts of mercury to prevent vaccine contamination.
- had Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), a rare side effect of temporary paralysis that occurs after receiving the flu vaccine.
- have a fever the day of the vaccination. Part 5 of 6: Side Effects
High-Dose Flu Shot
This vaccine contains four times the amount of antigens as there are in a normal-dose flu vaccine, but studies have not yet proven the effectiveness of this high dose vaccine. Since the immune system response weakens with age, the regular flu vaccine is not often as effective in individuals that are 65 and over. They are at the highest risk for flu-related complications and death.
Intradermal Flu Shot
The FDA recently approved another type of vaccine, Fluzone Intradermal, for people between 18 and 64. The typical flu shot is injected into the muscles of the arm. This type uses smaller needles to inject the vaccine, and may be an attractive choice for those afraid of needles. This method works just as well as the typical flu shot, but has side effects of swelling, redness, roughness, or itchiness at the site of injection, and some people may also experience headache, muscle aches, or fatigue. These side effects should disappear within a week.
Nasal Spray Vaccine
People with no chronic medical conditions, and who are between 2 and 49 years of age, are also eligible for the nasal spray form of the flu vaccine. However, some people should not receive the flu vaccine in spray form. These people include:
- children between 2 and 5 who have had at least one wheezing episode in the past year
- pregnant women
- people who have had a serious reaction to flu vaccine in the past
- people with asthma
- children and adolescents on aspirin therapy
- people severely allergic to eggs. If you are mildly allergic, talk to your doctor, as you may still qualify for the vaccine.
- people with muscle or nerve disorders that make swallowing or breathing difficult
- people with weakened immune systems
A flu shot (or spray) is the single best way to protect yourself against the flu. Schedule an appointment to receive a flu shot at your doctor’s office or local clinic. They are now also widely available over the counter at pharmacies and grocery stores. The best defense is a great offense.