What is the Flu?
Each winter, millions of people suffer from the flu. The flu, short for influenza, is a virus that infects the nose, throat and lungs. It spreads from person to person, especially when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Usually the flu is a mild disease in healthy children, young adults and middle-aged people. However, it can be life threatening in older adults and in people of any age who have chronic problems, such as diabetes, chronic lung disease, asthma, or heart failure. Pregnant women are also at high risk.
The flu can cause fever, chills, dry cough, and sore throat, as well as headache, muscle aches and extreme fatigue. Some symptoms, such as fatigue and cough, can last a few weeks. Children may have upset stomach or vomiting, but adults usually don’t.
Serious and possibly life-threatening complications are rare. While your body is busy fighting off the flu, you may be less able to resist other infections such as pneumonia. These secondary infections can be especially dangerous to older adults, pregnant women and those with chronic illnesses. In an average year, flu leads to thousands of deaths nationwide and many more hospitalizations.
Why Get a Flu Vaccination?
A flu vaccination can greatly lower the chances of getting the flu, as well as preventing much of the illness and death caused by influenza. New vaccines are available every year to target rapidly adapting flu viruses, and last year’s vaccine might not be effective against this year’s viruses.
Who Should Get a Flu Vaccination?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), everyone 6 months and older should get a flu vaccine each year. Plus, the following people are at risk for serious illness from the flu:
- Children 6 months and older
- Pregnant women
- Children on long-term aspirin therapy
- Anyone 50 years old and up
- People of any age with chronic conditions
- Those who live in nursing homes or long-term care facilities
- People who live with or care for those at high risk from flu including:
- Healthcare workers
- Household contacts of those at risk for complications
- Household contacts and caregivers of children less then 6 months old
Types of Vaccine
There are different ways of getting the vaccine:
- The “flu shot” is an inactivated vaccine given with a needle, usually into a muscle in the arm. This type of vaccination is used in healthy people older than 6 months, including people with chronic medical conditions.
- The intradermal flu vaccine is a shot injected into the skin instead of the muscle. The shot uses a smaller needle than the regular flu shot, and requires less antigen to be as effective as the flu shot. Antigen is a part of the vaccine that helps the body build up protection against flu viruses. This vaccine is approved for adults 18 through 64 years of age.
- A nasal-spray flu vaccine is made with live, weakened flu viruses that do not cause the flu. The nasal-spray vaccination is approved for use in healthy people 2 to 49 years of age who are not pregnant.
Ask your healthcare provider about new vaccines that might be available, such as those designed specifically for people 65 years and older.
When to Get a Flu Vaccination?
Each year's flu virus is usually slightly different from the previous year's virus. For this reason, the flu vaccine is updated yearly to include the most current strains of the influenza virus. A new vaccine must be given in each year to ensure up to date protection.
Flu season in the US usually occurs from November until April. Most people get the flu between late December and early March. The best time to get your flu vaccination is as soon as the vaccine is available, usually in September. It takes about 1-2 weeks after you get the vaccination to develop protection. Flu vaccination is available at your healthcare provider’s office, the health department and many pharmacies.
Life-threatening allergic reactions from vaccines are very uncommon. If they do occur, it is usually within a few minutes to a few hours after the vaccination. With rare exceptions, the danger from getting the flu, and possibly pneumonia, is far greater than the danger from the side effects of the vaccination.
- Side effects of the flu shot might include:
- Some soreness, redness or swelling where the shot is given
- Low grade fever
- The live influenza vaccine viruses in the nasal-spray vaccine very rarely spread from person to person. If they do, it’s very unlikely to cause an illness. Mild side effects include runny nose; nasal congestion or cough; sore throat; fever; headache and muscle aches; wheezing; abdominal pain or occasional vomiting or diarrhea.
People who have any of the following conditions should check with their healthcare provider before receiving a flu vaccination:
- Anyone who has a severe allergy to chicken eggs
- Anyone who has previously had severe reactions to the flu vaccine
- Anyone who developed Guillain-Barré syndrome within 6 weeks of receiving the flu vaccination
- Children less than 6 months old
- Those with a moderate to severe illness with fever should wait until they are fully better before getting a vaccination.
What We Have Learned
- A flu vaccination can greatly lower the chance of getting the flu.
True or False
The answer is True.
- Each year’s flu virus is usually slightly different than the previous year’s virus.
True of False
The answer is True.
- Life-threatening allergic reactions from vaccines are very uncommon.
True or False
The answer is True.
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