Flu season happens every year. It starts in the fall and continues into the spring. Make sure you are protecting yourself and others from the flu by practicing good health habits and getting your annual vaccination. Although most people with influenza will recover without additional medical issues, influenza can cause serious illness and death, particularly among older adults, very young children, pregnant women, and those with certain chronic medical conditions.
Get a Flu Vaccine Every Year
The best way to prevent influenza is to get a flu vaccine every year. The influenza virus is constantly changing. Each year, scientists work together to identify the virus strains that they believe will cause the most illness, and a new vaccine is made based on their recommendations.
- It is recommended that everyone over the age of 6 months receive the yearly influenza vaccine.
- Children between 6 months and 8 years of age may need two doses of flu vaccine to be fully protected from flu. Discuss this with your child's healthcare provider.
- Children younger than 6 months of age are at higher risk of serious flu complications but are too young to get a flu vaccine. Because of this, safeguarding them from flu is especially important. If you live with or care for an infant younger than 6 months of age, you and others in your family should get vaccinated to help protect them from the flu.
- A high potency flu vaccine is available for those over 65. Discuss this with your healthcare provider.
- The best time to get the flu vaccine is soon after it becomes available in the fall of each year.
The Flu Shot
Flu shots are injectable influenza vaccines given with a needle (usually in your arm). They work by helping our bodies produce antibodies that provide protection against infection with the virus strains in the vaccine. The amount of antibodies in the body is the greatest one to two months after vaccination and then gradually declines. After receiving the flu shot it usually takes about two weeks for the body to develop immunity to influenza. Important things to know about the flu shot:
- The flu shot is safe for people with asthma.
- The flu shot is covered by Medicare and other health insurance.
- Most people experience little or no reaction to the flu shot. The most common side effect is a swollen, red, tender area where the vaccination is given.
- You cannot get the flu from the flu shot as it is made from either inactivated (killed) viruses or parts of the virus.
Flu Shot Types
Traditionally, the flu shot has protected against three viruses—two influenza A strains, and one influenza B strain. This is a trivalent vaccine. Recently, manufacturers began offering a flu shot that protects against four viruses—the same three viruses as the traditional flu shot, as well as a second influenza B strain. This type is a quadrivalent vaccine. Both types are recommended and neither has been shown to provide better protection than the other. The CDC has more information on the types of flu shots and how they are made.
What about the Spray Vaccine?
FluMist is a nasal spray approved to protect people from getting the flu. The nasal spray is made from live but weakened virus strains. FluMist is only recommended for healthy people ages 2-49 who are not pregnant. High-risk groups, such as people with asthma and COPD, or those who are pregnant, should receive a flu shot and not use Flu Mist. For those not willing or able to be injected, Flu Mist is recommended as an alternative by the CDC and AAP.
To find a flu vaccine near you, visit the Flu Vaccine Finder.
Practice Good Health Habits
- Wash your hands often. The most common way to catch the flu is to touch your own eyes, nose or mouth with germy hands. So keep your hands clean, and away from your face. Wash hands with soap and warm water for 30 seconds, or about the amount of time it takes you to sing "Happy Birthday" twice. Also carry hand sanitizer.
- Keep your distance when you are sick or if you are around someone else who is sick.
- Keep it to yourself. One gift you can give others is to help prevent other people from catching your flu. You should stay home from work, school and public places when you are sick (Keep in mind you can still spread germs up to 7 days after getting sick). Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your elbow when coughing or sneezing, but never your hand. It may prevent those around you from getting sick.
Remember, getting an influenza vaccine is the best way to protect yourself from the flu. The shot only takes about two weeks to take effect so it can be effective even if the season has started in your area, and as late in the year as March.
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Reviewed and approved by the American Lung Association Scientific and Medical Editorial Review Panel. Last reviewed August 17, 2018.
Last updated September 5, 2018.