It’s that time of year again—flu season! It can be difficult to sift through all the information about the flu shot coming your way. Here’s some background to help you make an informed decision.
What is the flu?
The flu is a respiratory illness caused by influenza types A and B viruses, or human influenza viruses. It is spread by coming in contact with droplets of an infected person produced when they cough, sneeze, or talk up to about six feet away. The flu is characterized by 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. According to the CDC, in the 2018-2019 flu season, there were over 30 million cases of the flu resulting in half a million hospitalizations and tens of thousands of deaths.
Anyone can get the flu, but some people are at a higher risk for complications.
Who is at risk?
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):
I’m healthy—why should I get the flu shot?
By getting the flu shot, you are protecting yourself as well as others.
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 you 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.
I heard the flu shot is not always effective.
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.
Can I get the flu from the 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.
When should I get the vaccine?
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.
Go to your local pharmacy to get your flu shot. If you have any questions, send a message to your care team in the Firefly Health app. Not a patient yet? Get started by downloading the app today from the App Store or Google Play.