Cooler weather brings the promise of many pleasant things: football, cardigan wearing and pumpkin spice lattes. But it also ushers in flu season, which is no one's definition of fun. The best way to avoid or minimize the effects of the flu is to be vaccinated against influenza each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Many people have questions and concerns about the flu shot. Here are some answers.
How does the flu shot work?
The flu vaccine is available in two forms: a shot and a nasal spray. The shot (usually given in the arm) contains an inactivated vaccine made of the killed virus. When the inactivated virus enters your body, it begins to develop antibodies against the activated virus. The nasal spray has a low dose of live but weakened flu viruses. It won't give you the flu, but it will cause an immune response in your body.
The CDC recommends that you receive the flu vaccine as soon as it's available in your area. It's important to receive the vaccine each year: Not only do your antibody levels decline over time, but also each year's vaccine protects against newly evolved versions of influenza.
What will this year's vaccine protect me against?
The CDC reports that in years when the vaccine and strains of the flu are well matched, the flu shot is 60 to 70 percent effective at preventing influenza in all age groups. Each year, the shot is designed to protect against three or four expected influenza viruses.
In 2014–2015, a trivalent virus will protect you from:
- An A/California/7/2009 (H1N1)pdm09-like virus;
- An A/Texas/50/2012 (H3N2)-like virus; and
- A B/Massachusetts/2/2012-like virus.
A quadrivalent vaccine will protect you against these three viruses, plus a B/Brisbane/60/2008-like virus.
Who should — and shouldn't — get a flu shot?
Everyone six months or older should be vaccinated against the flu, according to the CDC. It's especially important for pregnant women, older adults and young children to be vaccinated, as well as individuals with chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes, asthma and cancer.
However, if you meet the following conditions, you should not get vaccinated or should consult your physician before doing so:
- If you're allergic to eggs. Some flu vaccines contain small amounts of egg proteins.
- If you've had a serious reaction to a previous vaccination.
- If you have a history of Guillain-Barré Syndrome, a serious paralytic illness.
- If you are currently moderately to severely ill, even if you don't have a fever. (In this case, you need to wait until you are well to be vaccinated.)
Will the flu shot make me sick?
No. However, you might still develop flu-like symptoms related to your body's production of antibodies. You might also have been exposed to the virus in the two weeks before the vaccine fully takes effect.
You can expect to have a low-grade fever, aches and soreness where the shot was administered.
How much does the flu shot cost?
Most insurers fully cover the flu shot as a preventive measure under the Affordable Care Act. Check with your insurance company before getting a shot.
You can learn more about the flu shot and find out where to be vaccinated at http://www.flu.gov/prevention-vaccination/vaccination — and whether you choose to be vaccinated or not, practice good hygiene to protect yourself against influenza.