A Simple Way to Keep the Flu Away

A Simple Way to Keep the Flu Away

You can prevent the flu this season by
taking one simple step: Get a flu vaccine. The CDC recommends everyone 6 months and
older
get vaccinated. This includes pregnant women.

Unfortunately, some people think that
getting a flu vaccine is too much trouble or costs too much. Or they are sure that
a flu
shot will make them sick. Or it will make them more likely to catch the flu.

The flu is also called seasonal
influenza. It’s caused by one of several strains of the flu virus (type A or B) that
infect
the nose, throat, and lungs. The flu makes life miserable for a week or two for many
people. It’s deadly for some. Flu season can start as early as October. It peaks anywhere
from late December to early April.

Vaccine facts

Your best defense against the flu
is to get vaccinated. For the 2019-2020 influenza season, the vaccine is available
in
several forms.

  • The flu vaccine is usually
    given by shot, most often into a muscle in the arm. This form of the vaccine has
    killed virus. It’s approved for most people older than 6 months of age. Children
    ages 6 months to 8 years who have never been vaccinated need 2 doses given 1 month
    apart. This is to build up protection. Get the first dose as soon as it’s
    available so that the second dose is given by the end of October. After the first
    flu season, your child will need only 1 dose for future flu seasons.

  • A nasal spray is also an
    option for healthy, non-pregnant people 2 to 49 years old. It’s made of live but
    weakened flu virus.

  • A needle-free device called a jet injector can give a 2-dose flu
    vaccine through the skin into the muscle. This may be an option for some people 18
    to
    64 years old.

A flu vaccine is especially
important for people who are more likely to have problems if they get the flu. This
includes

  • Children younger than 5 years, and especially younger than 2
    years
  • People 65 years and older
  • Those with long-term (chronic) health conditions or a weak
    immune system
  • Anyone who lives in a nursing home or care facility
  • Pregnant women and women who have had a baby in the last 2
    weeks
  • American Indians and Alaska Natives
  • People with a body mass index of 40 or more

Even if you don’t fall into one of
the above groups, you should still get the vaccine if you want to prevent the flu.

Talk with your healthcare provider first

Some people shouldn’t be vaccinated for the flu before talking with their healthcare
provider, the CDC says. These are reasons to talk with your healthcare provider:

  • You have a
    severe allergy to chicken eggs. This means more than
    itchy skin. You will be advised to get your flu shot in a medical setting where a
    healthcare provider can monitor you and give emergency care if needed for a severe
    reaction.

  • You developed Guillain-Barré
    syndrome in the 6 weeks after getting a flu shot in the past.

  • You currently have an illness
    with a fever. Wait until symptoms get better before getting the vaccine.

Children younger than 6 months of age should not be vaccinated against the flu. Flu
vaccines haven’t been approved for that age group.

Other prevention steps

Flu viruses are spread by contact
with droplets sneezed or coughed from an infected person. Breathing in the droplets
is
the most common way to get the flu. Touching objects on which droplets have landed
also
infects many people. You can spread the virus to others before you feel sick yourself.
The CDC says you are contagious a day before symptoms start and up to 5 days
afterward.

You can protect yourself against the flu by doing simple things like washing your
hands before eating and not putting your hands near your face or in your mouth. Washing
hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water works fine. If soap and water are
not available, rub your hands with an alcohol-based hand cleaner. If someone in your
family has the flu, you can help prevent it from spreading by cleaning surfaces with
a solution of 1 part bleach to 10 parts water.

Rooting out rumors

Don’t believe the rumor that a flu
shot can give you even a mild case of the flu. It’s impossible. The vaccine does not
contain a form of the flu virus that can give you the flu. The injected form of the
vaccine is made from pieces of dead flu virus cells. After getting the vaccine, some
people have mild flu-like symptoms as a side effect. This is not the same thing as
having the flu.

When you get the flu vaccine, your
body reacts and makes antibodies that give you immunity against the virus.

The main reason you should be
revaccinated each year is that the flu virus is constantly changing into new strains.
Each year the CDC tries to figure out which flu strains will have the biggest effect.
The CDC works with vaccine makers to create the specific vaccine that will fight the
predicted strains for that year.

If you are concerned about the cost
of a flu vaccine, check with your local health department for places near you where
free
flu shots are given. Many insurers also cover flu vaccines at no cost to their
members.