If you've ever had the flu, you know how bad it can
make you feel. To help avoid all that misery - as well as possible
health complications - doctors now recommend that all
teens up to age 18 get a flu vaccine every year.
Hate getting shots? There's good news: The flu vaccine also
comes in a nasal spray.
Why Get Vaccinated?
It's especially important for people with certain medical
conditions (like kidney disease, diabetes, HIV, heart problems, or
asthma) to get a flu vaccine because getting
vaccinated can protect against complications like pneumonia.
Kids and teens who take aspirin regularly also need to be
vaccinated because they're at risk for developing a
serious condition called Reye syndrome if they get the flu.
Another reason for getting vaccinated is to protect the
people around you who might get seriously ill from flu, especially
because many (like very young babies) can't
be vaccinated themselves. It's what scientists call
"herd immunity" - by protecting yourself you are also
protecting other people who are
more vulnerable because there's less chance
you'll get the flu and pass it on.
So be sure to get vaccinated if you are around people who are at
risk if they get the flu, like babies, people with a serious
illness, and the elderly.
When Should a Person Get Vaccinated?
The best time to get a flu shot in the United States is in
October or November. This gives the body a chance to build up
immunity before the winter flu season. However, you can get a flu
shot throughout flu season and still have some protection against
the flu. You can also protect yourself against the flu by
washing your hands
What's in a Flu Vaccine?
Flu vaccines are available as a shot or nasal mist (a type of
spray that's squirted up the nose). The shot contains killed
flu viruses that won't cause people to get the flu, but will
cause the body to make antibodies to fight off infection by the
live flu virus.
The flu shot is about 80% effective against the flu, which means
that a few people who get the shot will still get the flu. In
addition, the shot only contains certain strains of the virus. If a
new flu strain emerges, a person who's had a shot may not be
protected against it.
If you hate getting shots, ask your doctor about the nasal mist
vaccine. The nasal mist is different from the shot because it
flu viruses instead of killed viruses. Because it contains live
viruses, the nasal mist isn't for everyone. For example, people
with weakened immune systems shouldn't get the nasal mist and
some things - like steroid use - can affect the immune system.
Check with your doctor to see if you can get the nasal mist
vaccine - or whether you need a flu vaccine at all.
What About Side Effects?
It's possible to have some minor side effects for 1 or
2 days after getting a flu shot, like soreness in the area where
you got the shot. Some people may feel achy or have a mild fever
after getting the shot. But the side effects aren't as bad as
the flu, which can make some people sick for as long as 2 or 3
A few people who get the nasal mist vaccine can develop mild
flu-like symptoms that go away after several days.
The ingredients for flu vaccines are grown inside eggs. So if
you're allergic to eggs or egg products, let your doctor know
before you get either type of flu vaccine.
Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: September 2008
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice,
diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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