Flu Season is Almost Here – Get Vaccinated!
It’s that time of year again – put away your sandals, get out your sweaters, and mark your calendar for your annual flu shot.
With a few exceptions, an annual influenza vaccine is a good idea for everyone age six months and older. Unlike some vaccines you receive only in childhood, and periodic vaccines like tetanus or whooping cough, a new flu shot is required each year because there multiple strains of flu. Before one flu season is even over, the World Health Organization meets to decide which strains are likely to infect the most people during the next flu season. Scientists then prepare vaccines that protect against the three (trivalent) or four (quadrivalent) most prevalent strains.
There are several types of flu vaccine: inactivated, recombinant and live attenuated, and they may be offered as an injection or nasal spray depending on who administers the shot, your age and any other health concerns you may have.
Anyone with an allergy to vaccine components, people with a previous serious adverse reaction to the vaccine, and individuals with a history of Guillain-Barré Syndrome (a severe paralyzing illness) should not get a flu shot. In the past, individuals with an egg allergy were advised not to receive a flu shot, but this recommendation has changed – if you have an egg allergy, discuss the flu shot with your primary care provider.
If you’ve ever heard someone say the flu shot gave them the flu, cross that off your list of worries. Said David Kwiatkowski, MD,“It’s a coincidence – if the person genuinely had the flu, he or she was already infected at the time of vaccination, but hadn’t displayed symptoms yet.”
Flu vaccine is widely available starting in early fall. Primary care providers, pediatricians, pharmacies, community vaccination clinics and many workplaces offer flu vaccine. In the northeast, the best time to seek out your vaccine is between late September and late October. Said Bridget Talbut, RN, UHS Clinical Services Director, “If you need to hold yourself accountable with a hard deadline, consider Halloween your cutoff date.” Antibodies will peak a month to a month and a half after your shot and last for about six months afterwards. If you don’t get a flu shot early but change your mind later in flu season, vaccination can still be beneficial.
For some higher-risk groups, the flu is an even bigger threat. It’s especially important to get a flu shot if you’re pregnant, immunosuppressed, have a chronic cardiopulmonary disease, have renal, hepatic, neurologic, hematologic, or metabolic disorders (including diabetes); are over 50, are a health care worker, are a nursing home resident, or are the parent, caregivers or household contact of an infant under six months of age. Children ages six months to four years, and children six months to 18 years on long-term aspirin therapy should also prioritize a flu vaccine.
Children six months to age eight who are receiving the flu shot for the first time or who have in the past received only a single dose need two doses, so seek out the first shot as soon as your pediatrician’s office makes them available, and then schedule the second dose four weeks later (ideally by the end of October). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the first dose “primes” the immune system; the second dose provides immune protection. Children who only get one dose but need two doses can have reduced or no protection from a single dose of flu vaccine. Children who have previously received two doses of vaccine at any time only need one dose of vaccine this season.
In addition to the flu shot, be sure to practice good hygiene overall during flu season, including frequent handwashing, frequent disinfection of surfaces, adequate rest and hydration, covering your mouth and nose while coughing or sneezing, avoiding sick individuals, and staying home yourself if you’re ill.
Flu vaccine is now available at all UHS Primary Care locations. Schedule your flu shot today! Click here for locations and contact information.
The flu generally comes on suddenly, within hours. Most people experience mild symptoms of the flu, but if you’re in a high-risk group or your symptoms worsen, contact your health care provider immediately.