Get Your Flu Shot

November 15, 2017 | Patricia Wuest

The CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine as the first — and most important — step in protecting against influenza

In the United States, flu season occurs in the fall and winter, with the peak occurring from late November through March. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that people 65 years and older are at greater risk of serious complications from the flu compared with young, healthy adults because human immune defenses become weaker with age. In recent years, CDC says, “it’s estimated that between 71 percent and 85 percent of seasonal flu-related deaths have occurred in people 65 years and older and between 54 percent and 70 percent of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations have occurred among people in that age group.” 

How can you protect against this danger? While there are many different flu viruses, a flu vaccine protects against the viruses that researchers predict will be the most common ones. CDC recommends getting vaccinated by the end of October, but they say it’s not too late to get one in November and even December.  

What Is the Flu?

Influenza is a highly contagious virus that causes infection in the nose, throat and lungs. Generally, it lasts for three to seven days, but symptoms — including fever, chills, sore throat, fatigue, cough and headache — may persist for up to two weeks. It can cause serious illness, especially in people with chronic health problems. 

What Are the Benefits of the Flu Vaccine?

As we age, our immune system gets weaker. This is a normal part of aging, but this means we don’t bounce back from disease as well as we did when we were younger. We senior adults are at much greater risk for flu-related complications. 

The flu vaccination is an important preventive tool for senior adults. And even if you do get sick with the flu, the vaccination may make your illness milder.  

Getting vaccinated yourself also protects people around you, including those who are more vulnerable to serious flu illness, like babies and young children and people with chronic health conditions. 

What Is the High Dose Vaccine?

The high dose vaccine is specifically for people 65 and older and contains 4 times the amount of antigen as the regular flu shot, according to the CDC. “It is associated with a stronger immune response following vaccination,” says the CDC. “Results from a clinical trial of more than 30,000 participants showed that adults 65 years and older who received the high dose vaccine had 24% fewer influenza infections as compared to those who received the standard dose flu vaccine.” 

What Are the Side Effects?

The high dose flu vaccines may result in more of the mild side effects that can occur with standard-dose seasonal shots. Mild side effects can include pain, redness or swelling at the injection site, headache, muscle ache and malaise. 

Who Should Not Get Vaccinated?

Health officials recommend that all people 6 months and older get an annual flu shot except for those who have ever had a severe or life-threatening allergic reaction to an influenza vaccine or vaccine component. Individuals who have had severe allergic reactions to a flu vaccine “should not get the vaccine again,” advises Dr. Lisa Grohskopf, a medical officer with the CDC. 

Before being vaccinated, discuss your health with your doctor. Tell your doctor if you experienced severe side effects to previous vaccines, and whether you have ever had Guillain-Barré syndrome, especially if you developed it within six weeks of a previous vaccination. The rare disorder, which can cause transient paralysis, has been linked to influenza vaccinations. 

Also tell your health provider if you are not feeling well or have a fever. “If it’s a mild illness, it’s fine to go ahead and be vaccinated,” Dr. Grohskopf said. “But if you’re sicker, you would generally want to wait until you’re feeling better, since symptoms of your illness could be confused with possible reactions from the vaccine.” 

Note: Mild reactions to a vaccination usually go away on their own, and if your reactions are not severe, these mild symptoms should not deter you from getting future vaccinations. 

How Can You Avoid Getting — and Spreading — the Flu?

Practice good health habits that your mother taught you! This includes covering your mouth when you cough, wash your hands often, and avoid people who are sick. Seek medical advice quickly if you develop flu symptoms. You might need medical evaluation or treatment with antiviral drugs.  

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website has detailed and complete information about the flu vaccines available for the 2017-18 flu season. Get educated at https://www.cdc.gov.

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