As the cold and flu season is rapidly approaching, more places are beginning to advertise the availability of flu shots. But what is the flu shot and how to you know if you need one?
The flu shot is a vaccination that works to protect you against getting a disease, in the case, influenza. It is available from your local pharmacy or at your doctor’s office. The CDC recommends everyone over the age of six months to get a flu shot as soon as they become available. Getting the shot before December is the best form of protection since influenza levels usually peak in January and February.
But what if you don’t like needles? There are several forms of the flu shot available and not all require a needle. You can get the nasal mist if between ages 2-49 and are not pregnant. This mist contains a live influenza virus that has been weakened so it cannot cause a full case of the flu. Your body will recognize this weakened virus and learn how to attack it so when your body sees the flu virus again, it can fight the disease faster and more efficiently. Some people after getting the mist do notice some flu symptoms, such as a runny nose, headache, and fever. These are normally mild.
There is also a new intradermal vaccine that is injected into the skin rather than the muscle. It uses a much smaller needle than the normal vaccine. People between ages 18 and 64 are eligible for this option. Most people notice some redness or swelling at the site of the injection, but experience less pain than the normal shot.
The normal intramuscular shot is available as a regular dose (for those over age 6 months) and a high dose (for those over age 65). Most common complaints after a flu shot are soreness, redness, swelling, and mild fever.
But why do I need a flu shot if I’ve never gotten the flu before? Influenza affects the very young, the very old, and those with health conditions most severely. In these populations, influenza may lead to pneumonia, dehydration, or death. By getting a flu shot, you are also helping stop the spread of the flu from those who are unable to receive the vaccine (those allergic to eggs, children younger than 6 months, those who have reacted poorly to a vaccine in the past). By receiving the flu shot even if you aren’t at risk, you work to protect the entire community from influenza.
This year’s vaccine contains three strains of the virus (H1N1, H3N2, and a B strain). These forms of the virus have been determined by the CDC to be the most dangerous and the most prevalent in theUnited States.
Call your local pharmacist for more information about protecting yourself and your community this flu season.
PharmD Candidate 2012