The Flu and the Flu Shot

Thursday, October 25, 2018

The flu, or influenza, is a highly contagious disease that is common around the world. The flu can cause fever, chills, body aches, cough, congestion, runny nose, sore throat, and fatigue. In children, it can cause vomiting and diarrhea. In severe cases, patients can be hospitalized or even die from the flu. While the risk is higher for children, the elderly, and anyone with compromised immune systems, the flu can kill perfectly healthy adults. Getting the flu shot protects you and others in your community.

Basics of the Flu Shot

The vaccine works by giving you an inactive form of the flu, which teaches the immune cells in your body to recognize the flu when it is in your body. Once your body recognizes the flu, it can respond much more quickly if you come into contact with the flu, and can prevent you from becoming sick or lessen the sickness.

When you receive a flu shot, you receive a form of a virus or bacteria that is inactivated, or can’t actually make you sick. Many people may have a sore arm after receiving the vaccine, and others may feel unwell or have a slight fever. This is just a reaction to the vaccine, and is not the vaccine making you sick. You cannot get the flu from the flu shot. The flu shot takes two weeks from being vaccinated to being protected, so getting the flu shot early lets you go ahead and be protected by the time flu season is in full swing. It is never too late in the year, however, to go ahead and have a flu shot.

How the Flu Shot Is Made

You may hear that the flu shot for a particular year is not a good match for the flu strains going around, and wonder if it is still worth getting. Short answer: yes, it is.

There are dozens of variations, or strains, of the flu virus, some of which are worse (worse symptoms, more contagious) than others. Each year scientists work to figure out which viruses they think will be present the following winter, and create vaccines to prevent against these particular viruses. Even if the strains in the vaccine are not the strains that are going around, the vaccine in the flu shot gives you some immunity to the strains going around. Having some immunity, even if it is not for the exact strain of the flu that you are infected with, means that your body can recognize the flu virus and start fighting it earlier, lessening the time you are sick and greatly reducing the severity of your symptoms.

Herd Immunity and Helping Others

Even if you’re willing to take the chance of getting the flu, get a flu shot to help others. Some people are unable to receive a flu shot, such as children under six months old, many cancer patients of all ages, and anyone else who has an immune system that is not working normally. The people who are unable to get a flu shot are also more at risk of having serious complications if they do get the flu.

If all the people who can get the flu shot get it, then a sort of bubble of protection is formed around the people who cannot get it. If enough people in a group of people are vaccinated against a disease, the disease cannot spread through the group of people and reach the people in the group who cannot be vaccinated. This idea is called herd immunity, and it is very important in keeping people healthy during flu season.

Where to Get a Flu Shot

There are several options for receiving a flu shot in your community.

If you have a primary care doctor, you can receive one at their office. You may or may not need an appointment or have to pay a copay.

Your community may still have free flu shot days; check community calendars to find them.

Your city or county health department may also give out flu shots, often for free.

Most insurance plans will cover flu shots, and you can usually get them at walk-in clinics at local pharmacies.