by Douglas MacQueen, MD
The flu season typically arrives between October and May each year. It can take two to three weeks after you receive your vaccination for it to become effective so now is a good time to get your flu shot.
Does a shot guarantee that I won’t get the flu?
The purpose of a flu shot is to prevent influenza infection, and in those who do get the flu, make it a milder, briefer illness. The three steps you can take to significantly reduce your risk for coming down with the flu are to get vaccinated, wash your hands more frequently using soap and water, and stay away from people who are sick with the flu. If you are planning to travel during the holidays and those plans involve flying, you should get vaccinated now. Flying brings us into contact with people from all over the world and an early vaccination will provide you with the best possible immunity.
Who should get the flu shot?
With certain exceptions, everyone six months of age or older should get a flu shot. Vaccination is especially important if you are in a high-risk group. This includes people with weakened immune systems, asthma and other lung diseases, diabetes, women who are pregnant, people under age two or over age 65, and those with kidney, liver, or heart disease. If you have regular contact with an infant, you should definitely get vaccinated to protect the health of the baby.
Who should not have a flu shot?
Babies less than six months old should not be vaccinated for the flu. Older siblings, parents, and grandparents who visit the baby should get flu shots. If you have an egg allergy, you should see an allergist to decide if it’s safe to get a flu shot. People with a history of Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) within six weeks of a previous flu shot should talk with their doctors before having a flu shot.
Can I get a case of the flu from the vaccine?
No, you cannot contract the flu from a flu shot. Some types of the vaccine have dead virus, some have weakened virus that can’t cause illness.
What is different about this year’s vaccine?
There are a few different types of vaccine available this year. Each has a slightly different twist, for example, the intranasal spray vaccine shouldn’t be used by pregnant women. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) doesn’t recommend any one vaccine over another; the most important thing is to get a flu shot.
Why do I need to get vaccinated every year?
You need to get vaccinated every year because the dominant strain of flu changes from year to year. The vaccine is designed to protect against what are predicted to be the most likely strains for the upcoming season. Additionally, the immunity you developed from previous flu shots decreases over time.
What should I do if I get flu symptoms?
If you develop a fever, chills, fatigue, cough, or body aches, see your doctor. People I mentioned above who are at high risk of complications from the flu should take antiviral medicine if they have the flu. Most certainly, if you come down with the flu, don’t go to work or school.
The bottom line is that the best approach to avoiding the flu is to wash your hands frequently and get a flu shot. The New York State Department of Health now requires everyone working in an inpatient health-care facility to get vaccinated, which underscores how very important vaccination is in preventing the spread of influenza.
Dr. MacQueen is an infectious disease specialist who is board certified in internal medicine and infectious diseases. He is on the medical staff of Cayuga Medical Center and can be reached at the Cayuga Center for Infectious Diseases at (607) 241-1118.