The flu (influenza) is caused by a virus that is easily spread. A flu vaccine protects you and others from the flu. It’s best to get a flu shot every year in late summer or early fall, as soon as the vaccine is available in your area. You can get it at your healthcare provider’s office or a health clinic. Pharmacies, senior centers, and workplaces often offer flu shots, too. If you want to know if your provider has the flu vaccine available, or if you have other questions, ask your healthcare provider.
Flu symptoms tend to come on quickly. They include:
- Tiredness (fatigue)
- Sore throat
- Runny nose
- Muscle aches
Upset stomach and vomiting are not common for adults. Some symptoms such as tiredness and cough may last for many weeks.
How a flu vaccine protects you
There are many types (strains) of the flu virus. Medical experts predict which strains are most likely to make people sick each year. Flu shots are made from these strains. When you get a flu vaccine, killed (inactivated) viruses are injected into your body. These can’t give you the flu. But they do cause your body to make antibodies to fight these flu strains. If you are exposed to the same strains later in the flu season, the antibodies will fight off the germs.
Who should get the flu vaccine?
The CDC recommends that infants over the age of 6 months and all children and adults should get a flu shot every year.
Some people are at an increased risk of developing serious complications from the flu. It is extremely important that these people get the vaccine. They include those with:
- Long-term heart and lung conditions
- Other serious health conditions such as:
- Endocrine disorders such as diabetes
- Kidney or liver disorders
- Weakened immune system from disease or medical treatment. For example, people with HIV or AIDS, or those taking long-term steroids or medicines to treat cancer.
- Blood disorders such as sickle cell disease
It is also very important that others who have an increased risk of being exposed to the flu or are around people with increased risk for complications get the vaccine. This includes:
- Healthcare providers and other staff who provide care in hospitals, nursing homes, home health, and other facilities
- Household members, including children of people in high-risk groups
Types of flu vaccines
The flu vaccine is available as a regular and a high-strength shot. Your healthcare provider will recommend the vaccine that is best for you.
The flu shot is available in a few different forms. Your healthcare provider will determine which vaccine is right for you. There is a high-dose vaccine for those over age 65 and a vaccine for those with egg allergies. It is safe for most people. Talk with your provider if you have had:
- A severe allergic reaction to a previous flu vaccine
- Guillain-Barré syndrome. This is a severe paralyzing condition.
The nasal spray is not recommended for the 2017-2018 flu season. The CDC says this is because the nasal spray did not seem to protect against the flu over the last several flu seasons. In the past, it was meant for people ages 2 to 49.