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The flu (influenza) is caused by a virus that is easily spread. And it can be more dangerous than you think. A flu vaccine is your best chance to avoid the flu. The vaccine is given in the form of a shot (injection) or a nasal spray. It’s best to get vaccinated each fall, before flu season starts. This can be done at your doctor’s office or a health clinic. Drugstores, senior centers, and workplaces often offer flu vaccinations, too. If you have questions about getting vaccinated, ask your health care provider.
The flu vaccine will not give you the flu.
The flu is caused by a virus. It can’t be treated with antibiotics.
The flu can be life-threatening, especially for people in high-risk groups.
Influenza is not the same as “stomach flu,” the 24-hour bug that causes vomiting and diarrhea. This is most likely due to a GI (gastrointestinal) infection—not the flu.
Flu symptoms tend to come on quickly. Fever, headache, fatigue, cough, sore throat, runny nose, and muscle aches are symptoms of the flu. Children may have upset stomach or vomiting, but adults usually don’t. Some symptoms, such as fatigue and cough, can last a few weeks.
There are many strains (types) of flu viruses. Medical experts predict which 3 strains are most likely to make people sick each year. Flu vaccines are made from these strains. With the shot, inactivated (“killed”) flu viruses are injected into your body. With the nasal spray, live and weakened viruses are sprayed into your nose. The viruses in both vaccines cannot make you sick. But they do prompt the body to make antibodies to fight these flu strains. If you’re exposed to the same strains later in the flu season, the antibodies will fight off the virus. Your health care provider can tell you which type of flu vaccine is right for you.
Almost anyone can (and should) get vaccinated, especially people in the following high-risk groups:
Persons 50 and older
Babies and children 6 months and older (ask your healthcare provider if your child should receive the vaccine)
Children on long-term aspirin therapy
People with chronic health problems (such as diabetes, chronic lung disease, asthma, or heart failure)
People receiving certain medical treatments
People who live in nursing homes or other long-term care facilities
Caregivers and household contacts of babies younger than 6 months
Health care workers
Babies younger than 6 months
People who have had bad reactions to flu vaccination (including Guillain-Barré syndrome)
A person who has a high fever (the vaccine can be given after the fever goes away).
Two main types of flu vaccines are available, injection (shot) and nasal spray. Talk to your doctor about which type is right for you.
The regular flu shot is for persons 6 months and older. It is injected with a needle into the muscle of the upper arm.
The high dose shot is only for persons 65 years and older. It is also injected into the muscles of the upper arm. This vaccine has four times the amount of killed viruses than the regular flu shot. This helps the body produce more antibodies, which is important for older persons whose immune systems are weaker.
The intradermal shot is injected into the skin with a much smaller needle than for the regular flu shot. This vaccine has a much smaller amount of killed viruses than the regular flu shot. But this is just as effective as the regular flu shot in prompting the body to produce antibodies.
Two different influenza vaccines are now available for use in people with a severe egg allergy. Talk with your doctor about seeing an allergist before getting the flu vaccine.
Nasal spray: This is a vaccine that’s sprayed into the nose. It is available only for healthy persons ages 2 through 49. It should not be used for pregnant women.