Dr. MJ Bazos MD,
What is influenza?
Influenza (also called "the flu") is a viral
infection in the nose, throat and lungs. About 10 to 20% of Americans get the
flu each year. Some people get very sick. Each year, about 130,000 people go to
a hospital with the flu, and 20,000 people die because of the flu and
The flu may cause fever, cough, sore throat, a
runny or a stuffy nose, headache, muscle aches and tiredness. Some people
describe the flu as being like the worst cold of their life. Most people feel
better after 1 or 2 weeks. But for some people, the flu leads to serious, even
life-threatening diseases, such as pneumonia. Influenza vaccine (the flu shot)
is recommended for these people who are more likely to get really sick to
protect them from the flu.
Who is at higher risk?
You have a higher risk of flu complications like
pneumonia if you:
- Are 50 years of age or older
- Are a health care worker
- Have a lung problem, such as asthma or emphysema
- Have a suppressed immune system
- Have a problem with your kidneys
- Have diabetes, heart disease or other long-term
If you are in
any of these groups, you should probably get the flu vaccine every year.
Other people should also get the vaccine because
they might spread the flu to high-risk people. You should get the vaccine if you
work in a long-term care facility. And even if you're not at higher risk, you
may want to get the flu vaccine so you don't get sick with the flu.
What is the flu vaccine?
The flu vaccine is a shot. It contains killed
viruses. You can't get the flu from the vaccine because the viruses are dead.
But your body builds up antibodies to the virus to protect you from the flu.
When a "live" virus shows up, your defenses are ready. These defenses keep you
from getting the flu. Because flu viruses change from year to year, you must get
the shot each year to be protected.
When should I get the vaccine?
You should get the vaccine at the beginning of
the flu season, usually in October or November. You can get the shot later in
the year, but then you would not be protected when flu season starts.
If I get a flu shot, can I still get
Yes. Even with a flu shot, you aren't 100%
protected. Each year, the flu vaccine contains 3 different strains (kinds) of
the virus. The strains chosen are those that scientists believe are most likely
to show up in the United States that year. If the choice is right, the vaccine
is 70 to 90% effective in preventing the flu in healthy people under 65 years of
age. If you're older than 65, the vaccine is less likely to prevent the flu.
Even if you get the flu after the vaccine, your flu symptoms should be milder
than if you didn't get the vaccine. You'll also be less likely to get
complications from the flu.
Is the vaccine safe?
Yes. The flu vaccine is safe for people over 6
months of age. There are very few side effects. Your arm may be sore for a few
days. You may have a fever, feel tired or have sore muscles for a short time.
A few people are allergic to the flu vaccine. If
you have a severe allergy to eggs, you shouldn't get the shot. You should tell
your doctor about your egg allergy. He or she will tell you if it's okay to get
the flu shot.