The flu shot is a vaccine given each year to help prevent certain strains of the flu virus. Each year, scientists determine which strains of the flu are going to be circulating. The vaccine contains three influenza viruses: one A (H3N2) virus, one A (H1N1) virus, and one B virus. While the vaccine does not protect against all strains of the flu, it is still crucial to preventing illness.
Who Should Get a Flu Shot?
Anyone who wants to prevent the flu virus should consider getting a flu shot. The CDC recommends that individuals who fit into one of the following categories be vaccinated each year:
~Children between the ages of 6 months and 19 years
~Individuals over the age of 50
~Individuals who have chronic medical conditions such as cancer, HIV, and heart disease
~Individuals living in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
~Individuals caring for those at high risk for complications from the flu including health care workers, household contacts or those at high risk from flu complications, and individuals who care for children under the age of 6 months
Who Cannot Get a Flu Shot
There are some individuals who cannot receive a flu shot. Since the virus is grown using chicken eggs, anyone who has an allergy to chicken eggs will be unable to receive the vaccine. Individuals who have Guillan-Barré syndrome, a neurological disorder, may also be unable to receive the vaccine and should speak with a physician. If you are running a fever or have any sort of infection, it is best to wait to receive the flu shot until you have recovered.
Sometimes individuals who do not fall into any of these categories can have severe reactions to the vaccine. If you have had a severe reaction in the past, your physician may recommend that you do not receive the flu shot. The flu shot is not available for children under the age of 6 months.
Though rare, side effects from the flu shot can develop. The most common side effect is soreness, redness, or swelling at the site where the shot was given. This side effect is usually mild and will only last one or two days. Other side effects can include low grade fever and body aches. These side effects usually last one to two days, but you should consult your physician if the symptoms persist. Since the virus used in the shot is inactive, you cannot get the flu from the vaccine.
When to Get the Flu Shot
The flu shot usually becomes available in September or October and is given through the beginning of January. It is best to get the flu shot before the flu virus starts circulating. Since it takes two weeks before the vaccine becomes effective, it is important to plan ahead. It is often recommended that the flu shot be given in mid-October so that it is effective by the beginning of November, when flu season begins. Remember, no matter when you receive the flu vaccine, it will help protect against the flu for the rest of the season.