(Updated September 3, 2021)
Flu season is upon us once again. It can be tough to sift through all the information available about the flu shot. Here’s some background to help you make an informed decision.
The flu is a respiratory illness caused by influenza types A and B viruses, or human influenza viruses. The flu is spread through droplets produced by an infected person when they cough, sneeze, or talk from up to about six feet away.
Symptoms of the flu include an abrupt onset of fever, body aches, headache, and weakness, as well as a non-productive cough, sore throat, and runny nose.
Having the flu alone can leave you bedridden for up to a week. However, there are also potential complications, such as pneumonia, hospitalization, or death. While the CDC reported that flu cases were down significantly in the 2020-2021 flu season (likely due to measures taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19), it’s still important to remain vigilant and reduce the spread of influenza.
Anyone can get the flu, but some people are at a higher risk for complications. The following are considered high risk for the flu (adapted from the CDC):
People with certain medical conditions, such as lung disease (COPD, asthma), neurologic conditions, blood disorders (sickle cell anemia), diabetes, heart disease, kidney disorders, liver disorders, metabolic disorders, weakened immune system (cancer, HIV), or obesity with a Body Mass Index greater than 40.
By getting the flu shot, you are protecting yourself as well as others. This is a concept known as herd immunity. The more people who are protected from the virus reduces the risk of the virus spreading, especially to those at high risk for complications. For instance, newborns have an immature immune system and do not receive a flu shot until 6 months. As a result, infants less than 6 months old are at very high risk for complications from the flu. By getting the flu shot, as well as washing your hands and covering your mouth when you sneeze or cough, you can help prevent the spread of disease.
Every year, experts try to predict the most common influenza strains for the season based on trends. The vaccines cover three to four strains of the virus. Sometimes, it’s not a perfect match, but getting the flu shot can still lessen the severity of the illness. Visit the CDC website for information about the coverage for this year’s flu shot.
The short answer is no. The flu shot is made from an inactivated virus, so it cannot cause an infection. You may get soreness at the site of the injection. Some people also experience mild body aches and a low grade fever for 1-2 days after receiving the injection.
There is also a flu vaccine in the form of a nasal spray. This is made from an attenuated, or weakened, virus that cannot multiply in warm temperatures, such as in the lungs. As a result, it cannot cause the flu.
Flu season is from October through March, with peaks in December through February. Firefly Health recommends getting the flu shot at the beginning of the season, ideally in October. It takes a couple weeks for immunity to kick in.
You can get your flu shot at your local pharmacy, and if you have questions about any of this, don’t hesitate to reach out to your Firefly Health care team. You can chat with us or schedule a visit in the app today. Not a member yet? Get started by signing up or giving us a call at (855) 869-9284.
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