Influenza, also known as the flu, is a contagious virus that appears seasonally. It spreads from person to person and can cause mild to severe illness. Symptoms of the flu include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills, and fatigue. For some people, the flu can lead to serious complications, and possibly even death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), up to 20 percent of Americans get the flu each year, and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized annually from flu-related complications. Flu season may start as early as October and usually subsides by May.
Flu Vaccination Recommendations
The influenza vaccine is recommended annually for adults and children age 6 months and older. In addition to protecting individuals, when healthy people get vaccinated, it helps to decrease the spread of flu and protect people who are at high risk of serious complications from the flu. Although most people recover from the flu without any complications, certain people have a higher risk for serious complications related to the flu. These may include:
- People age 65 and older
- Children age 2 and under
- People with compromised immune systems
- Pregnant women
People with chronic medical conditions including diabetes, asthma, congestive heart failure, or lung disease are also at a greater risk for developing complications from the flu. Flu vaccinations are especially important for people in these high-risk categories.
Types of Flu Vaccinations
Traditional flu vaccines are created to protect against different flu viruses that scientific research has indicated will be most common during the upcoming season. The viruses in the flu vaccine change each year based on medical and scientific estimates about which types and strains of viruses will circulate in a given year. Influenza vaccinations are available as:
- The flu shot, an inactive vaccine that is administered through a needle
- The flu mist or nasal spray, a vaccine made with live, weakened flu viruses
There may be certain restrictions associated with the different types of flu vaccinations, and patients should consult with their doctors prior to getting vaccinated.
Risks of the Flu Vaccination
A flu vaccination does not cause the flu and the risk of a flu shot causing serious complications is extremely low. However, as with any medication or vaccination, a severe allergic reaction,although extremely rare, is possible. Most people who get the influenza vaccine do not develop any problems. Possible side effects from a flu vaccine may include:
- Soreness or redness in the arm (from the flu shot)
- Low grade fever
- Mild body aches
If experienced at all, these side-effects only last 1 to 2 days after the vaccination and are much less severe than an actual flu illness.
Flu shots are generally available starting in September before the flu season begins. Protection provided by influenza vaccination can vary, based on health and age factors. While the flu shot may not always be completely effectively at preventing the flu, it may help to reduce the severity of the flu.