As fall approaches, we look forward to the crisp, cool days ahead. A new school year begins, autumn festivals entice us with apple and pumpkin delights, and the colorful leaves begin to drop all around.
It’s a wonderful time of year. Let’s make sure you and your family enjoy all it has to offer in good health.
One of the easiest ways to protect yourself during the colder months is a seasonal flu vaccine. If you’ve been wondering if it’s necessary or safe, we’ll answer all your questions.
What is the flu?
Most of us have had the misfortune of experiencing the flu at least once. But let’s clarify exactly what it is first.
Influenza (commonly referred to as the flu) is a contagious respiratory illness. It’s caused by a viral infection of the nose, throat, and lungs. People with the flu typically spread the virus to others through coughing, sneezing, or talking near others. It’s also possible to get the flu by touching a surface that has flu virus on it, and then making contact with your mouth, nose, or eyes.
People with the flu experience some or all of these symptoms.
- Fever or feeling feverish/chills (not always present)
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle or body aches
- Vomiting and diarrhea (more common in children)
Flu treatment is focused on relieving your symptoms. However, for people at higher risk, there’s also the option of antivirals. They can lessen symptoms, prevent flu complications, and shorten the time you’re sick by one or two days.
What are the best practices for avoiding the flu?
There are several initiatives you can take to prevent the onset of the flu this season. Here are a few precautionary measures the CDC recommends:
- Wash your hands: Prevent germs with soap and water or alcohol-based hand rub.
- Keep your surroundings clean: Dispose of tissues, cover your mouth when you cough, etc.
- Avoid touching your face: Keep your hands away from your eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Eat healthily: Maintain a strong immune system with fruits and vegetables.
- Drink fluids: Stay hydrated, especially with water.
- Stay active: Foster a mobile lifestyle to strengthen your body.
- Manage stress: Stress has a physical toll on the body. Make sure you are getting 8 hours of sleep.
- Seasonal flu vaccine: The single best way to avoid the flu this year is to get vaccinated.
Why should you get a seasonal flu vaccine?
Once you’ve had the flu, it’s fair to say that you’d rather not have it again. No one wants to spend one to two weeks in bed. You’ll miss work, time with the kids or grandkids, or other life events.
But it’s not just about avoiding the flu. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), seasonal flu vaccines can:
- Reduce the risk of flu-related hospitalizations
- Prevent serious medical events associated with some chronic conditions
- Protect women during and after pregnancy
- Reduce the risk of death in children with the flu
- Decrease the severity of symptoms for people who get the flu
And, equally important, you’re protecting those around you. Even if you’re able to bounce back quickly, your child or an elderly neighbor could catch it from you and have serious complications.
Who should get a seasonal flu vaccine?
Routine annual influenza vaccination is recommended for all persons aged ≥6 months who do not have contraindications.” However, for certain populations considered high-risk, it can be a lifesaver. If you, a loved one or a caregiver fall into any of these categories, vaccination is highly recommended by the CDC.
- Adults 65 years and older
- Children younger than two years old
- Pregnant women (and women up to two weeks after pregnancy ends)
- People who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
- People who are obese with a body mass index of 40 or higher
- People younger than 19 on long-term aspirin- or salicylate-containing medication
In addition, certain health conditions can make a person more susceptible to flu-related complications like pneumonia or bronchitis. The flu can also make existing chronic conditions worse. If you or someone you love has any of these, it’s critical to get a flu shot.
- Neurologic and neurodevelopment conditions
- Blood disorders
- Chronic lung disease
- Endocrine disorders (such as diabetes mellitus)
- Heart disease
- Kidney disorders
- Liver disorders
- Metabolic disorders
- People with a weakened immune system due to disease (such as people with HIV or AIDS, or some cancers such as leukemia)
Who should not get a seasonal flu vaccine?
The flu vaccine is appropriate for most people. However, there are some exceptions:
- Children younger than six months
- People with a history of severe allergic reactions to any component of the vaccine or to a previous dose of any influenza vaccine.
- A history of Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS) within 6 weeks of a previous dose of any type of influenza vaccine is considered a precaution to vaccination.
How do flu vaccines work?
Some people worry that the vaccine will simply give you the flu. However, that’s not the case. Inactive flu vaccines (shots given with a needle), as opposed to live vaccines administered nasally, are made with:
- Flu viruses that have been “inactivated” (killed) and are therefore are not infectious.
- A single gene from a flu virus (as opposed to the full virus). This produces an immune response without causing infection.
By prompting your immune response, flu vaccines cause antibodies to develop in the body. Antibodies are proteins that protect you from foreign substances, such as bacteria or viruses. These particular antibodies will fight off infection from the viruses present in the vaccine.
They are sometimes called seasonal because they protect against the influenza viruses that research indicates will be most common during the upcoming season. This is why the flu vaccine needs to be given every year.
What are the types of flu vaccines?
Although you might think there’s just one flu shot, there are actually several types of flu vaccines. Scientists have developed variations for certain age groups or people with special medical needs or allergies. You should always consult with your medical professional to advise which one is right for you.
Trivalent flu vaccines
Trivalent flu vaccines protect against three strains of the virus: influenza A (H1N1), influenza A (H3N2), and influenza B virus.
- Standard – This flu shot is for those ages 18 to 64.
- High Dose – Designed for individuals 65 and older, this contains four times the amount of flu virus antigen as a standard dose shot.
- High Dose + Adjuvant – Also approved for people ages 65 and older, this includes an ingredient called adjuvant, which creates a stronger immune system response.
Quadrivalent flu vaccines
These flu vaccines protect against four different strains of the influenza virus (the three strains mentioned above plus an additional influenza B virus).
- Standard – This shot is available to people six months and older, but there’s also the option of a shot with the virus grown in cell culture. However, this alternative is for ages four and older.
- Intradermal – Administered superficially into the skin instead of a muscle, the intradermal shot is approved for ages 18 to 64.
- Recombinant – This vaccine isn’t manufactured or grown from eggs, making it appropriate for those with an egg allergy who are 18 and older.
- Live attenuated intranasal spray – The nasal spray is approved for use in non-pregnant individuals, from 2-49 years. However, people with some medical conditions should not receive the nasal spray flu vaccine. You should discuss this with your health care provider.
How effective are seasonal flu vaccines?
CDC conducts studies each year to determine flu vaccine effectiveness. In years where the actual circulating flu viruses are well-matched to the viruses used in the vaccine, recent studies show that flu vaccination reduces the risk of flu illness by between 40% and 60%.
However, even during years when the flu vaccine match is good, the benefits will vary based on factors like the characteristics of the person being vaccinated, what viruses are circulating that season, and which type of flu vaccine was used.
Naturally, determining how well a flu vaccine works is challenging. But in general, studies have supported that flu vaccination benefits public health.
What’s the best time to get vaccinated?
Influenza can circulate year-round but tends to peak December through February. Early Fall is the best time to get vaccinated with the season’s strains. We recommend getting vaccinated by the end of October so your body has a chance to build up immunity to the virus. It takes about two weeks for the flu shot to protect you. But even if you wait, getting a flu shot later still helps.
Where can I get the flu vaccine?
The CDC offers a convenient Flu Vaccine Finder online. You just need to enter your zip code.
Additionally, we welcome you to get your flu shot at one of our two locations in Midtown Manhattan or Washington Heights. You can call 212-326-5705 or make an appointment directly through the website.