Flu Vaccination: Your Questions Answered

More than 200,000 people are hospitalized each year with the flu or flu-related complications.* Mohammed Ali, M.D., with Meritus Infectious Disease Specialists explains why the flu vaccination is your best bet to fight this serious virus.

What is the flu?

The flu is an acute respiratory disease caused by the influenza virus. The telltale difference between a cold and influenza is that the flu strikes quickly and causes more severe symptoms such as high fever, runny nose, sore throat, muscle aches, headache, coughing and feeling tired.

How do you get the flu?

When people infected with the flu virus cough or sneeze, they spread droplets of saliva through the air. The droplets can get into your nose, mouth and eyes or you can touch contaminated surfaces and contract the flu. The virus is commonly spread in group settings such as schools, work places and gyms.

How does the flu vaccination work?

The vaccine is made with weakened or dead flu viruses. Your body senses the virus and develops antibodies to fight it. It takes two weeks for your immune system to form the antibodies and they remain in your system throughout the flu season.

Can the flu shot cause the flu?

No. A flu shot cannot cause flu illness; however, some people may get the flu despite being vaccinated because the vaccine may not cover all strains of the flu. The flu virus constantly changes its form and each year scientists develop flu vaccines based on which virus they believe is predominate. “The vaccination still provides the best protection against the most common strains so if you do get the flu, your symptoms won’t be as severe,” says Dr. Ali.

Is the flu vaccination safe?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or CDC, and the Food and Drug Administration constantly monitor the safety of vaccines, however; vaccines, like any medicine, can have side effects. Mild side effects may include low-grade fever, body aches and soreness at the injection site. “The connection between the seasonal flu vaccine and Guillain-Barré syndrome, an autoimmune disease, is extremely rare,” says Dr. Ali.

Who should get a flu shot?

The CDC recommends that everyone six months or older get vaccinated against the flu. Vaccination not only protects you against the flu, it reduces the spread of influenza throughout the community.

Why do you need a flu shot every year?

Strains of the flu virus change from year to year and your immune protection from vaccination declines over time.

When should you get vaccinated?

Flu season peaks between December and February, but it can begin as early as October. “It’s a good idea to get vaccinated before the winter season when people tend to gather together indoors,” says Dr. Ali.

You can fight a cold, why not fight influenza?

The flu can be a serious disease, particularly among young children, older adults and people with certain chronic health conditions such as asthma, heart disease, diabetes or those with compromised immune systems from chemotherapy or other medical treatments. And because the flu is primarily a respiratory disease, it can also lead to pneumonia—a very serious condition for young children and older adults.

*Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention