Flu season is upon us. So who needs the flu shot and why? Dr. David Gerson provides a little Q & A.
What is the flu vaccine?
The flu vaccine is a treatment that can keep you from getting sick with the flu. The flu, or influenza, is a virus and therefore antibiotics will not treat a flu infection. The flu vaccine is made up of inactive, “dead” pieces of the flu virus. YOU CANNOT GET THE FLU FROM THE FLU SHOT!
Are there different forms of the flu vaccine?
Yes. The flu vaccine comes in different forms, including:
- A shot that goes into muscle (usually in the upper part of the arm)
- A nasal spray
Your doctor can help you decide which vaccine is best for you. However, at this time, doctors do not recommend the nasal spray vaccine for the 2016-2017 flu season.
Who should get the flu vaccine and when?
All people age 6 months or older should get the flu vaccine every year. The vaccine is especially important for certain people at high risk
The best time of year to get the flu vaccine is before the Fall season. Try to get the vaccine by October. But the flu shot can be given anytime during the “Flu Season” which in Arkansas can run well into later March early April. The CDC recommends starting vaccination as soon as it becomes available in your area.
Depending on how many doses they have had in the past, children ages 6 months through 8 years might need 2 doses of the vaccine for it to work best.
Why should I get the flu vaccine?
Getting vaccinated can help keep you from getting sick. Plus, being vaccinated can help protect those around you from getting sick. If you have been vaccinated but get the flu, the vaccine can also keep you from getting severely ill or even dying.
Even in years when the vaccine is less effective, it still helps prevent some cases of the flu and also helps to prevent serious illness and outbreaks of the flu.
What side effects does the flu vaccine cause?
Often the vaccine causes no side effects. When it does cause side effects, it can cause:
- Redness, mild swelling, or soreness where you got the shot
- A mild fever
- A mild rash
- Headache or body aches
Serious side effects are rare.
“But Doc, last time I got the flu shot I got the flu!”
Again, you cannot get the flu from the flu shot! I inform my patients that the vaccine can take up to 2 weeks to be active. Often patients will only get the vaccine after an outbreak has occurred and they have been exposed during that 2 week period. The vaccine is also not 100% but it has proven that if you do get the flu after vaccination the illness is far less severe and can help prevent serious complications including death.
What if I am pregnant?
If you are pregnant, it is very important to get the flu vaccine. In pregnant women, flu symptoms can get worse quickly and be dangerous. The flu can even cause trouble breathing or lead to death of the woman or her baby.
What if I have an egg allergy?
If you have an egg allergy, you should still get the flu vaccine. People with serious egg allergies sometimes have a bad reaction to some versions of the flu vaccine. But people with mild allergies can often take egg-made vaccines. If you have an egg allergy, remember to tell your doctor or nurse.
What else can I do to prevent the flu?
In addition to getting the flu vaccine every year, you can:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water, or use alcohol hand rubs
- Stay away from people you know are sick
If you are exposed to the flu, antiviral medicines can help protect you from the flu, but those medicines are not appropriate for everyone. Also, antiviral medicines work only if you start them very soon after being exposed or as soon as you show symptoms.
To protect others, you should also:
- Stay home if you get the flu. Do not go to work or school until your fever has been gone for at least 24 hours, without taking fever-reducing medicine, such as Tylenol.
- Cover your mouth and nose with the inside of your elbow when you cough or sneeze.
People at high risk from the flu
The flu vaccine is especially important for:
- Children age 6 months through 4 years
- Adults age 50 or older
- People with long-term health problems, such as:
- Lung disease, including asthma or COPD
- Heart disease
- Severe obesity
- People who have trouble fighting infections, for example because they:
- Are being treated for cancer
- Have HIV/AIDS
- Had an organ transplant
- Women who are or will be pregnant during the flu season
- Children age 6 months through 18 years who take aspirin every day
- People who live in nursing homes or long-term care facilities
- Native Americans, including Alaska Natives
- People who live with or care for people at high risk (listed above)