With the spring season finally in our sights, it’s easy to forget the flu virus is still a threat. Flu season in the United States can last as late as May, which means you still need to take precautions to prevent getting sick. But don’t worry – it’s not too late to get your flu shot to protect yourself from the virus.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the single best way to protect yourself against influenza, or the flu, is to get vaccinated each year. The flu is a serious disease that can lead to hospitalization and sometimes even death. Even healthy people can get very sick from the flu and spread it to others.
Every year the seasonal flu vaccine – or flu shot – protects against the flu viruses that research indicates will be most common during the upcoming season. Traditional flu vaccines (called trivalent vaccines) are made to protect against three flu viruses: an influenza A (H1N1) virus, an influenza A (H3N2) virus and an influenza B virus. This season there are flu vaccines made to protect against four flu viruses (called “quadrivalent” vaccines). These vaccines protect against the same viruses as the trivalent vaccine, as well as an additional B virus.
Who should get vaccinated?
Everyone who is at least six months of age should get a flu shot this season.
Who should not get vaccinated?
The flu shot is not approved for children younger than six months of age. People who have had a severe allergic reaction to the flu shot should generally not be vaccinated. There are also some people who should not get a flu shot without first consulting a physician. These include:
- People who have a moderate-to-severe illness with or without a fever (they should wait until they recover to get vaccinated) and
- People with a history of Guillain–Barré Syndrome (a severe paralytic illness, also called GBS) that occurred after receiving the flu shot and who are not at risk for severe illness from the flu. Tell your doctor if you ever had Guillain-Barré Syndrome. Your doctor will help you decide whether the vaccine is recommended for you.
Can I get the flu from the flu shot?
No, a flu shot cannot cause flu illness. Flu shots that are administered with a needle are currently made in two ways: 1) with flu vaccine viruses that have been “inactivated” and are, therefore, not infectious or 2) with no flu vaccine viruses at all.
The nasal spray flu vaccine does contain live viruses; however, the viruses are attenuated (weakened), and cannot cause flu illness. The weakened viruses are cold-adapted, which means they are designed to only cause infection at the cooler temperatures found within the nose. The viruses cannot infect the lungs or other areas where warmer temperatures exist.
There are many myths and concerns about the flu shot, so always get your information from your physician, pediatrician or from sources like the CDC, National Institutes of Health (NIH) or World Health Organization (WHO).
Here are other resources on the flu shot: