The flu is nasty! No one likes the chills, vomiting or fever associated with the illness. Although the thought of getting a shot is not pleasant, the effect of not getting the shot is even worse! The flu can cause moderate symptoms, but in many seniors, it can be fatal.
Here Nurse Gina with FirstLight Home Care answers the most common questions about the flu and how to protect both you and your family against this all too common illness.
Who Should Receive the Vaccine?
First, all children aged 6 months and older should be vaccinated annually, with rare exceptions, particularly if you are at an increased risk for complications. It is highly recommended that individuals with chronic illnesses, those susceptible to respiratory illnesses or who have low immune systems get the vaccine. It is also suggested for caregivers such as doctors, nurses, and nurses’ aides who regularly come in contact with patients.
Special Consideration Regarding Egg Allergy
People who have ever had a severe allergic reaction to eggs, or who have a severe allergy to any part of this vaccine, may be advised not to get vaccinated. People who have had a mild reaction to egg—that is, one which only involved hives—may receive the flu shot with additional precautions. Make sure your healthcare provider knows about any allergic reactions. Most, but not all, types of flu vaccine contain small amount of egg.
Those Who Should Not Receive the Flu Shot (TIV)
If you have had an allergic reaction to a prior vaccination, do not get the influenza vaccine.
Next, anyone with a history of Guillain-Barré Syndrome (a severe paralytic illness, also called GBS) that occurred after receiving an influenza vaccine and who are not at risk for a severe illness from influenza should generally not receive vaccine. Tell your doctor if you ever had Guillain-Barré Syndrome. Your doctor will help you decide whether the vaccine is recommended for you.
Those people who are moderately or severely ill with or without a fever should usually wait until they recover before getting flu vaccine. If you are ill, talk to your doctor about whether to reschedule the vaccination. People with a mild illness can usually get the vaccine.
The Flu Vaccination Itself
Why should people get vaccinated against the flu?
Influenza is a serious disease that can lead to hospitalization and sometimes even death. Every flu season is different, and an influenza-related infection can affect people differently. Even healthy people can get very sick from the flu and spread it to others. Over a period of 31 seasons between 1976 and 2007, estimates of flu-associated deaths in the United States range from a low of about 3,000 to a high of about 49,000 people. During a regular flu season, about 90% of deaths occur in people ages 65 years and older. The “seasonal flu season” in the United States can begin as early as October and last as late as May.
During this time, flu viruses are circulating in the population. An annual seasonal flu vaccine (either the flu shot or the nasal-spray flu vaccine) is the best way to reduce the chances that you will get seasonal flu and spread it to others. When more people get vaccinated against the flu, less flu can spread through that community.
How do flu vaccines work?
Flu vaccines cause antibodies to develop in the body about two weeks after a vaccination. These antibodies provide protection against an infection with the viruses that are in the vaccine.
What kinds of flu vaccines are available?
There are several flu vaccine options for the 2013-2014 flu season.
Traditional flu vaccines made to protect against three different flu viruses (called “trivalent” vaccines) are available. In addition, flu vaccines made to protect against four different flu viruses (called “quadrivalent” vaccines) also are available.
The trivalent flu vaccine protects against two influenza A viruses and an influenza B virus.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) does not recommend one flu vaccine over the other. The important thing is to get a flu vaccine every year.
When should I get vaccinated?
Flu vaccinations should begin soon after vaccine becomes available, ideally by October. However, as long as flu viruses are circulating, a vaccination should continue to be offered throughout the flu season, even in January or later. While seasonal influenza outbreaks can happen as early as October, most of the time influenza activity peaks in January or later. Since it takes about two weeks after getting the vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body, it is best that people get vaccinated so they are protected before influenza begins spreading in their community.
Flu vaccine is produced by private manufacturers, so availability depends on when production is completed. Shipments began in late July and August and will continue throughout September and October until all of the available vaccine is distributed.
Where can I get a flu vaccine?
Flu vaccines are offered in many locations, including doctor’s offices, clinics, health departments, pharmacies and college health centers, as well as by many employers, and even in some schools.
Even if you don’t have a regular doctor or nurse, you can get a flu vaccine somewhere else, like a health department, pharmacy, urgent care clinic, and often your school, college health center, or work.
Can I get seasonal flu even though I got a flu vaccine this year?
Yes. There is still a possibility you could get the flu even if you get vaccinated. The ability of the flu vaccine to protect a person depends on various factors, including the age and health status of the person being vaccinated, and also the similarity or “match” between the viruses used to make the vaccine and those circulating in the community. If the viruses in the vaccine and the influenza viruses circulating in the community are closely matched, vaccine effectiveness is higher. If they are not closely matched, vaccine effectiveness can be reduced. However, it’s important to remember that even when the viruses are not closely matched, the vaccine can still protect many people and prevent flu-related complications. Such protection is possible because antibodies made in response to the vaccine can provide some protection (called cross-protection) against different but related influenza viruses.
Vaccine Side Effects (What to Expect)
Can the flu vaccine give me the flu?
No, a flu vaccine cannot cause the flu. Flu vaccines that are administered with a needle are currently made in two ways: the vaccine is made either with a) flu vaccine viruses that have been ‘inactivated’ and are therefore not infectious; or b) with no flu vaccine viruses at all (which is the case for recombinant influenza vaccine). The nasal spray flu vaccine does contain live viruses. However, the viruses are attenuated (weakened), and therefore cannot cause the flu. The weakened viruses are cold-adapted, which means they are designed to only cause infection at the cooler temperatures found within the nose. The viruses cannot infect the lungs or other areas where warmer temperatures exist.
Different side effects can be associated with the flu shot and nasal spray flu vaccines. These side effects are mild and short-lasting, especially when compared to symptoms of influenza.
The flu shot: The viruses in the flu shot are killed (inactivated), so you cannot get the flu from a flu shot. Some minor side effects that could occur are: Soreness, redness, or swelling where the shot was given, Fever (low grade), and Aches.
The nasal spray: The viruses in the nasal spray vaccine are weakened and do not cause severe symptoms often associated with influenza illness. In children, side effects from the nasal spray can include: runny nose, wheezing, headache, vomiting, muscle aches, and fever.
In adults, side effects from the nasal spray vaccine can include: runny nose, headache, sore throat, and cough.
If these problems occur, they begin soon after vaccination and are mild and short-lived. Almost all people who receive the influenza vaccine have no serious problems from it. However, on rare occasions, flu vaccination can cause serious problems, such as severe allergic reactions. People who think that they have been injured by the flu shot can file a claim for compensation from the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP).
Protect yourself, your family and everyone you come in contact with by getting a flu shot.