Even though it’s easy to dismiss the flu as “only a bad cold,” influenza can actually be a very serious condition that could lead to hospitalization, or even ominously, death! Even otherwise healthy people can get very sick from the flu and they can easily pass it to other people, such as seniors or babies who may be more susceptible to serious reactions. In the United States the flu season begins near the start of October and can drag on through the end of May.
In general, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends an annual flu shot for anyone over the age of 6 months, with a few exceptions. Factors that can determine a person’s suitability for vaccination, or vaccination with a particular vaccine, include age, current and past health and certain allergies, including an egg allergy. And, the CDC, cautions that despite what you may have heard, there is no relation between vaccinations and conditions such as autism.
How Do Flu Shots Work?
Flu vaccines cause antibodies to develop in the body that protect against infection with the viruses that are in the vaccine. Each year, the flu vaccine protects against the viruses that research indicates will be most common. Most flu vaccines are trivalent, meaning they protect against three flu viruses. Quadrivalent vaccines are also available to protect against the same viruses as the trivalent vaccine plus an additional B virus. The exact vaccine that your physician or pharmacist provides will depend on your age among other factors.
Are Some Flu Vaccines Better Than Others?
The CDC has not expressed a preference for a certain flu vaccine this year except for one: the CDC recommends the use of the nasal spray vaccine for healthy children 2 years through 8 years of age when it is available and if the child has no contraindications. If only the flu shot is available, the CDC recommends using that rather than delaying flu vaccination.
When Should My Family Get Vaccinated?
Ideally, your family should be vaccinated as soon as possible since it takes about two weeks for the antibodies to develop and provide protection. However, as long as flu viruses are circulating—often well into May—you should still get the vaccination even as late as January, when flu activity peaks.
Can My Family Get the Flu Even If Vaccinated?
Even with a flu vaccination, it is still possible to get the flu. Protection depends on various factors, including the age and health status of the person being vaccinated. If the virus strains in the vaccine you received match well with the strains circulating in your community, you will have higher immunity than if the match is less exact. That said, remember that even when the viruses are not closely matched, the vaccine can still protect many people and prevent flu-related complications.
What Are Possible Complications from the Flu Vaccine?
First, it’s a myth that the flu vaccine can cause the flu. You can, however, experience some side effects from a flu shot or nasal flu spray. Generally, these side effects occur shortly after the vaccine, and are very mild and last only a short time—they are certainly milder than the effects you would feel from getting the flu.
Some minor side effects that you may experience with the flu shot are soreness, redness, or swelling where the shot was given, a low-grade fever and aches. In children, side effects from the nasal flu spray might include a runny nose, wheezing, headache, vomiting, muscle aches, and a low-grade fever. In adults, the nasal flu spray may produce a runny nose, headache, sore throat, and cough.
The vast majority of people who receive a flu shot do not have any serious problems. However, if a severe allergic reaction develops you should see a physician. Otherwise, get your family vaccinated and enjoy a flu free season!
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