Flu season is right around the corner! Last year, about half of all adults in the United States didn’t get a flu shot. Almost 4 out of 10 parents and caregivers of children under 18 years old said that they didn’t vaccinate their children. Why does this matter?
People who don’t get a flu shot put themselves and everyone around them at risk. If you are exposed to the flu, you may be contagious before you notice any flu symptoms. It may take up to four days before symptoms begin. It is important to know that you are contagious from the day before the symptoms start until five to seven days after you get sick.
People who are contagious with the flu can easily spread it to others even when as far as six feet away! Flu viruses are spread through the air by droplets from coughing, sneezing, or talking. In some cases, you can get the flu by touching an object or surface that has flu virus on it and then touching your own mouth or nose.
Who should get a flu shot?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone over six months old get a flu shot. This protection is especially important for those at increased risk of complications from the flu—young children, adults 65 years and older, pregnant women, and people with chronic health problems. All parents, caregivers, teachers, and others who come in contact with people at greater risk should get a flu shot. Getting a flu shot not only protects you, it protects the people around you.
When should I get a flu shot?
It takes your body about two weeks after getting a flu shot to make enough flu antibodies to protect you. The CDC recommends getting the vaccine before the end of October. Flu season in the United States peaks between December and February but can last as late as May. If you can’t get a flu shot before flu season starts, get one as soon as possible.
What are the different types of flu vaccines? Which one should I get?
Several types of flu vaccines are available. Certain vaccines have been developed for different age groups and for people with certain medical conditions. You should get a vaccine that is appropriate for your age and any other special considerations. Talk to your healthcare provider or pharmacist about which one is right for you. Go to vaccinefinder.org to find where to get the flu vaccine in your area. If you want to get a specific type of vaccine, call ahead to find out if it is available.
The trivalent vaccine has been available for many years. This vaccine protects against three different flu viruses—an influenza A (H1N1) virus, an influenza A (H3N2) virus, and one influenza B virus. Although two different B viruses circulate during most seasons, experts choose only one B virus for this vaccine.
The quadrivalent vaccine protects against four different flu viruses—an influenza A (H1N1) virus, an influenza A (H3N2) virus, and two influenza B viruses. The quadrivalent nasal spray vaccine is approved for people two years old through 49 years old but shouldn’t be used if you are pregnant or have certain medical conditions. The quadrivalent flu vaccine may cost more than trivalent vaccine. Contact your insurance provider or pharmacist to find out how much you will pay.
Two flu vaccines are especially designed for adults 65 years and older. The high-dose flu vaccine contains four times the amount of antigen as a regular flu shot. The adjuvanted vaccine contains an additive that creates a stronger immune response.
Other vaccines have been developed using methods that don’t involve chicken eggs during the manufacturing process.
What are symptoms of the flu?
Symptoms of the flu appear suddenly. They may include chills, headaches, muscle or body aches, dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, and extreme fatigue. Some, but not all, people with the flu have a fever.
Can I get the flu from the flu shot?
No, flu vaccines are made from inactivated virus.
What are complications from the flu?
Complications from the flu can result from another infection that happens at the same time, such as a sinus or ear infection or pneumonia. Flu can make chronic health conditions, such as asthma or heart disease, worse. Other possible serious complications are caused by inflammation. Problems from inflammation can affect the heart, brain, and muscles or cause organ failure.
Flu shots are available at Shots for Tots/Big Shots clinics for children who are uninsured or who are Medicaid recipients. Shots are available for uninsured adults. No one will be denied services if they are unable to pay. Call the Austin Public Health immunization line 512-972-5520 to make an appointment.
Brenda Schoolfield is a freelance medical writer who splits her time between Austin and Seattle.