Should You Get a Flu Shot?

posted: 11/11/15
by: Katie Morton

It's the time of year when we put up festive decorations, plan holiday celebrations, and travel to see friends and family via planes, trains, and automobiles. Unfortunately, it's also the time of year when we are most likely to reach for the tissues, tea, and thermometers.

According to experts, the number one way to prevent serious illness as the weather turns cold is to get the flu vaccine. And everyone over the age of six months should receive a flu shot annually, so says the CDC.

Let's talk about the answers to questions many of us have about the flu and flu shots in particular.

What is the flu?

Influenza is a serious illness that can result in hospitalization or, in rare cases, death--even among the otherwise healthy. Young children, people with suppressed immune systems, and the elderly are especially susceptible to flu complications (the virus can make any lingering health issues worse).

Some symptoms of the flu include fever, fatigue, body aches, headache, cough, stuffy nose, and sore throat. If you've ever had the flu, you know that words like "fatigue" and "body aches" don't quite convey how bad the flu actually feels!

If you got a flu shot last year, do you need another vaccine this fall?

The answer is YES. This is because each year the strains of flu might be different and the annual vaccine targets the particular strains predicted to be infectious. Also, the body's immune response from vaccination decreases over time, so an annual vaccine is key to preventing illness.

When should you get a flu shot?

The best time to get vaccinated is by October, since it takes your body about two weeks after receiving the vaccine to fully produce antibodies against the disease. However, the vaccine will be available through the entire flu season, which in many cases is well into the spring. In past years, cases of the flu have been reported through May, so spring isn't too late for a flu shot.

Are flu shots safe for everyone?

The vaccine is generally reported as very safe. However, there's a small subset of people who should not get the vaccine. People who can't get the flu shot include children younger than six months or people with severe, life-threatening allergies to flu vaccine or any ingredients in the vaccine, including gelatin, antibiotics, or eggs.

Certain flu shots also have different age indications. Talk to your doctor if you are older than 65, as the high-dose flu shot might be not be appropriate, while those under age 18 are cautioned against the intradermal flu shot. Other people who should talk to their doctor before getting the flu shot are those who are allergic to egg, those who have had Guillain-Barr? Syndrome, or those who are currently ill or undergoing chemotherapy.

What are alternative ways to protect myself from the flu without getting a shot?

For those who may not be able to tolerate the flu vaccine in shot form, there are still opportunities to stay healthy. Consider the nasal spray vaccine, which is approved for use in those ages 2 - 49, with some restrictions. It's a decision to make with your doctor's help, as the nasal vaccine isn't safe for those with asthma, certain chronic medical conditions, heart disease, and kidney disease.

With rare exceptions, the flu shot is an easy, safe way to safeguard your health as the weather turns cold. As with any medical matters, it is best to talk about the pros and cons of each vaccine choice with your doctor to make the best decisions for you and your family.